KASHMIR HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE INDIAN PRESS

BY Teresa Joseph| IN Books | 13/04/2002
government posture on the issue

government posture on the issue. However, the same writer, in the very same newspaper quotes almost verbatim the US Department of State`s 1991 Human Rights Report which strongly criticises the situation in Pakistan.16 Indeed, this State Department report has been extensively quoted by all the three newspapers in this study in order to highlight the human rights situation in Pakistan. In `Pakistan Rapped for Human Rights Violation` in The Times of India on 4 February 1992, `Pak Victimising Opposition, says US Report` in The Hindu on 4 February 1992, and `Minorities Suffer in Pakistan: A Report` in the Indian Express on 8 February 1992, the papers quote the report as accusing Pakistan of subjecting political opposition to `harassment and victimisation`, the abuse of power by the police, extra-judicial killings, the alleged gang rape of Farhana Hayat, the detention of hundreds of workers of the Pakistan People`s Party, and so on.

Debate on the Press Council of India report
Another instance of the Indian press` selective reporting on Kashmir can be elucidated. In December 1990, the Press Council of India (PCI) appointed a committee to study the role of the press and its functioning in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the alleged reports of excesses by the armed forces against the civilians of the state. The Committee paid a visit to the state and its report, Crisis and Credibility, was adopted by the PCI in July 1991.17 The findings of the Committee showed that the reports of excesses were `grossly exaggerated or invented`. These conclusions were highlighted and extensively quoted in both the print and electronic media. However, the report had been faced with innumerable criticisms based on the manner in which such conclusions were reached. Criticism ranged from the composition of the Committee, its reliance on the army version of events, its requirement that alleged rape victims had to provide conclusive evidence that they had been raped, its spending of just one day in the Valley (and that too escorted by army officers), the lack of a woman investigator or an interpreter in the team, and its offensive remarks on women.18
As the report was largely devoted to dismissing allegations of rape by the army in Kunnan-Poshpora during February 1991, the Forum for Women and Politics organised a debate on the report in Delhi during the first week of December 1991. B.G. Verghese, the main author of the PCI report, was also present but reportedly unable to defend himself against the criticism and questions put forth by the participants.19 However, although the original report had been much highlighted by the Indian press, this debate challenging the very basis of the report found absolutely no mention in either The Times of India or The Hindu. The coverage of the occasion in the Indian Express on 10 December 1991 is very revealing. Welcoming the initiative taken by the women`s organisation, it gives a brief overview of the two main reservations against the report; that is, its methodology, and parameters for investigating allegations of rape. However, the report goes on to state:

The question and answer session turned into an inquisition with some interrogators even resorting to personally offensive remarks…. The scene was dismaying not merely because it betrayed a lack of decorum, but also a frighteningly black and white approach on the part of those who call themselves society`s conscientious objectors…. Apart from one or two speakers, nobody seemed to be in a mood to admit that just as a fact finding team can walk into public relations traps set by the army or the state, or get swayed by the rhetoric of national integrity, journalists and human rights activists can also be manipulated by militants in a climate of fierce insurgency or be influenced by the rhetoric of azadi…20.

The divergence in the wide coverage given to the PCI report and the negligence/criticism of the critique against it again divulges the nature of press reporting on Kashmir.

Strikes, bandhs and curfews
Similarly, we find that even strikes and bandhs held in protest against security excesses are completely ignored or, at the most, receive a mere passing mention no matter however successful or widespread they may have been. Even the imposition of curfew, sometimes extending for days and causing extreme hardships to the common man, is often ignored. More importantly, the severe socio-economic hardships of the people, the high levels of unemployment

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