NIT Kashmir: local and national versions differ

BY MOAZUM MOHAMMAD| IN Media Practice | 14/04/2016
The national media whipped up emotions by carrying provocative stories. The Kashmir papers stuck to the facts.
MOAZUM MOHAMMAD writes from Srinagar

 

A survey of the press coverage of the events at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Kashmir shows that the local media did not take a stand against outstation students and based their reporting on facts.  Instead, it was the national media that blocked or ignored some facts, which escalated the row.

Two prominent local dailies, Rising Kashmir and Kashmir Reader, reported the incident on April 2 when the clashes erupted between local and non-local students after the latter thrashed the delivery boy of a courier company and attempted to assault a faculty member.

The version of events, according to the Times of India however, was different. Its report said that the two groups of students clashed with one another after Kashmiri  students celebrated India’s defeat by the West Indies in the T20 World Cup semi-final after which the non-Kashmiri students took out a march which triggered clashes – without any mention of the assault on the courier person or the faculty member.

"Some of the reports filed from New Delhi were provocative."

 

Some of the reports filed from New Delhi were provocative. A Mail Today story filed by Siddhartha Rai had the headline “Non-Kashmiri girl students of Srinagar NIT narrate horror, say they are getting threats of rape”.  Similarly, Zee News carried a story along the same lines.

What’s striking is that not a single local media organization nor a single Kashmir-based reporter working for a national organization – and don’t forget these were the people on the ground - reported anything about rape threats. Nor did any student report the threat to the police or the Ministry of Human Resource Development when they listed their demands. Here's the link to the students’ demands given to the Ministry’s fact-finding team. 

In the Jammu-based State Times, , the non-Kashmiri students’ demand for NIT to be moved out of Kashmir and for action to be taken against the policemen involved in the lathicharge were both reported. But here too, there was no mention of any female student complaining of a rape threat.  

In an interview with Kashmir Reader, the chairman of the Board of Governors,  Dr M.J. Zarabi, said the allegation was false. What the female students had complained about, rather, was restrictions on their movement which they wanted relaxed.

In fact, Mail Today, when it carried a story by their local correspondent, Naseer Ganai, contradicted its own earlier report because Ganai wrote: “Outstation girl students said that they have no complaints against local students and people. Keeping their faces covered, the girls said that they have issues with the NIT administration and the Jammu and Kashmir Police and said that their protests should not be given a religious colour.”  

Another story in the Times of India can be also be deemed to be inflammatory. It appeared on the front page on April 8  with a New Delhi dateline and claimed that NIT was  India’s most militarised campus. It failed to mention the fact that the central paramilitary forces were brought into the campus to prevent the situation deteriorating any further. In fact, the students listed the deployment of central forces, rather than the Jammu & Kashmir police, as one of their demands to the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

This was explained by IBNLive: "As Jammu and Kashmir Police has not been able to provide security and safe passage to leave the campus and rather has lathi-charged the students and shot tear gas shells on them. Therefore central forces should be engaged for the security of students of NIT Srinagar."

In any case, if the national media were agitated at the presence of security forces on a campus, it is odd that they have never noticed that this is not at all an abnormal occurrence at Kashmiri educational institutions. If it is something unusual and unwarranted, then why have they not reported on how some of Kashmir's educational institutes are occupied by the security forces? An education department official has expressed helplessness at getting a school building vacated by the army but this has not been a story for the national media. A case of double standards?

"To get the nuances of these stories right perhaps editors in New Delhi should trust their local reporters on the ground more. "

 

After the police lathi charge on protesting students, some news channels such as Zee News were even more provocative and raised questions about the integrity of the Jammu & Kashmir police “for stopping students raising the Indian tricolor and shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

This prompted  police official to come up openly and defend themselves. The national media forgets JK Police has been on the forefront of fighting the armed militancy in the State. 

Meanwhile, the Jammu-based Daily Excelsior reported in one its reports on April 7, said "unfazed by the hostile atmosphere, the “courageous” non-local students, all girls, also hoisted tricolour on the campus amidst shouting of patriotic slogans like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘VandeMatram’ and ‘Jab Tak Suraj Chand Rahega, Bharat Tera Naam Rahega’."  

To get the nuances of these stories right, perhaps editors in New Delhi should trust their local reporters on the ground more. Instead, Times Now, NDTV, ABP News, and IndiaTV flew in reporters from outside the Valley to cover the NIT controversy, despite having fully-fledged bureaus here.

This is rather insensitive given that local reporters sometimes risk their lives and also have to bear the brunt of people’s wrath.  Journalists working with the national media have to hide their identity on occasion because local people accuse them of taking sides and being unfair in their reporting. On the other hand, they are not trusted by their organizations to do stories themselves, without New Delhi journalists being flown in to supercede them.

One reporter who works for a national news channel and who did not wish to be named, deserves the last word. He lamented that reporters from Delhi either had a “preconceived mindset or they didn’t have any understanding about local issues, which results in such provocations”. Indeed.

 

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