The competing narratives on Kashmir

BY SHAHNAZ BASHIR| IN Digital Media | 18/04/2017
The media are doing a grave disservice to the realities of Kashmir in the way they brazenly distort and misinform. It angers Kashmiris,
says SHAHNAZ BASHIR

What exactly is an alleged video?

 

As usual, the mainstream media in India has been distorting and selectively presenting the reality in Kashmir. The TV debates have seen a brazen restating of the political narrative of New Delhi with a dash of aggressive jingoism added. The mainstream media narrative versus the alternative narrative that is coming from Kashmir via locally uploaded and shared social media videos will always be highly disproportionate in terms of circulation, reach and impact.

There is a glut of video grabs capturing the excesses of government forces but the only video that was, reluctantly, played recently in some mainstream media was that of Farooq Ahmad Dar, a 27-year-old Kashmiri boy tied with a rope to the bonnet of an army jeep as a human shield.

It was replayed because it was tweeted by National Conference’s Omar Abdullah.  The Press Trust of India had a strange headline to go with the video and the picture: ‘Video allegedly showing youth tied to army jeep causes outrage’ ( Used by India Today, Business-Standard, Deccan Herald, Times of India, April 14, 2017). It was one more example of how the word “allegedly” has become the most offensive and unjust word in the journalistic lexicon.

The expediency of pro-India political parties in Jammu & Kashmir has always led them to use the Kashmir tragedy as a way of exposing the rival ruling party’s crimes. Each party now makes full use of social media, especially Twitter, to counter the other. The tragic Kashmir video that Abdullah shared on his Twitter handle on April 14 is the only one so far that has travelled from social media to mainstream TV news channels.

One more roughly-shot video which was used by the mainstream media to create further hate against Kashmiri youths in the minds of its Indian audiences was the one that was carefully doctored and edited to show how a couple of boys were trying to hit troops returning from polling stations on April 9, 2017.

The part of the video in which another group of boys are shouting slogans against Indian rule while simultaneously trying to shield the troops from those who were trying to hit them have been nicely cropped out. These other boys can be clearly heard abusing the assailants in Kashmiri for hitting the troops but even if the mainstream media had known what they were saying, they won’t translate and subtitle the voices in the video.

The video has been used to flaunt “the army’s exercise of restraint against irascible Kashmiri youths”. No one remarked that the same trigger-happy troops who kill armless protestors as a knee-jerk reaction at other times, were outnumbered by the boys following them in this video. Hence no retaliation was possible. 

There is one more video that no mainstream news channel shared: A polling station, just a five-minute walk away from separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani’s house, at Galwanpora in district Budgam, was besieged by young protestors with a few CRPF men trapped inside. The boys chanted “election-boycott” slogans in the compound of the polling station but not one of them touched the troops who later walked out safely.

And then there is another video in which Kashmiri boys are chanting slogans against elections and Indian rule and at the same time making human chains to protect a contingent of paramilitary men heading towards their bulletproof vehicle. The messages the youths want to give through these videos is that Kashmiris don’t desire violence and bloodshed but seek consideration of their political aspirations.

Last year, Geelani was reported as “mourning” the death of Indian troops as a human loss (in a similar vein as Gandhi condemning the killings of British and British-Indian troops at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur in retaliation for the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy) by the Hindustan Times at the time when the Indian media needed it in order to neutralize the temper of the 2016 Kashmir uprising - “In a first, Geelani mourns death of soldiers in Uri”, Hindustan Times, 20 Sep, 2016.

"By distortion and selective projection of the Kashmir reality, the mainstream media is psychologically affecting the audience in Kashmir."

 

The mainstream media will always take advantage of its power by fuelling an anti-Kashmir understanding. The panel debates are aimed at sustaining the drama of the news - never to allow any sincere resolution of the topics discussed. Not a single person in any debate has ever sincerely, humbly and objectively listened to another panelist. To keep the TRP level intact, the moderators make it a point that panelists are egged on to shout at one another. The last word - polemical and moralistic-sounding - must be the moderator’s. The TV news media space has no space for a true version of the Kashmir reality, only the need for a Kashmiri’s participation to create the impression of ‘balance’.

By distortion and selective projection of the Kashmir reality, the mainstream media is psychologically affecting the audience in Kashmir. The language of news and debates that have no space for balance or accommodating different opinions only make the audience hypertensive. I have personally witnessed many well-disposed audiences abuse the misinformation and disinformation, with some even breaking their TV sets.

This anger settles into the psyche of Kashmiri audience. It doesn’t help to watch the aggressive voiceover that plays behind the dramatically edited videos, along with sensational sound effects designed to make outside audiences believe in what they are seeing. The dormant anger surfaces in times of mass protests in Kashmir when protestors beat any random person who identifies himself as journalist. 

The gap between the political narrative mediated to Kashmir and how the media should reiterate the narrative is diminishing. For example, the perpetual parroting in New Delhi that Kashmiri stone-throwers are brainwashed and funded by Pakistan has always been copied verbatim by the mainstream media.  How can this be treated as a logical argument given that India, having politically and militarily controlled Kashmir for the last 70 years, has not been able to “brainwash” or “fund” the youths, all four generations of them.

A night before the recent re-elections of April 13, 2017 in Kashmir’s Budgam district which had a 2 per cent turnout, many TV news channels, particularly Gulistan News, broadcast programmes in which the hosts were directly delivering moral lectures about what Kashmiris should and shouldn’t do. They showed some videos and pictures in which the Indian army was crossing the floodwaters of 2014, along with some Kashmiri villagers, and narrated stories around these images about how the troops had saved Kashmiris.

The sole purpose was to evoke sympathy for the troops they assumed had not committed heinous atrocities in Kashmir for the last 30 years. Now what should  one believe?

On October 4, 2014, an Indian army general admitted that it was not the army but Kashmiri youths who “were at the forefront” and had saved people and many troops in the floods (“Rescue Heroes: Army ‘salutes’ Kashmiri youth”, Shabir Ibn Yousuf, Greater Kashmir, 5 Oct, 2014). Later, the army demanded money for flood assistance in Jammu and Kashmir from the government (“Army charges Rs. 500 crore for flood assistance in Jammu & Kashmir”, PTI, 29 June, 2015).

But all this reportage of the contradictory roles of the state and the army is not even imagined by the mainstream media to exist. They bother only with what suits them. It is not likely that such a media approach to Kashmir will end or change. But even the tiniest analysis of this way of working demonstrates that that such journalistic abuses are unacceptable.

 

Shahnaz Bashir is an author of two award-winning books of fiction The Half Mother and Scattered Souls. He teaches narrative journalism and conflict reporting to postgraduate students of journalism.    

 

 

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