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How Green Is The Valley?

21 years of conflict has made the Kashmiri media topography both challenging and confusing for journalists to traverse.


The general belief is that conflict only brings destruction. That is true looking at the colossal human and material losses a place goes through. But in some cases it comes as a boon or a “blessing in disguise”. Jammu and Kashmir is one such place which has been reeling under conflict for the last 21 years. Thousands have been killed, orphaned, widowed, disabled and displaced in the bitterly fought battles between separatist militants and government forces. There may hardly be any extended family not affected by the consequences of the conflict. Sometimes, the consequences replace the real cause for conflict thus delaying an amicable solution.

While there are endless traumatic stories to narrate and describe the bloody conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, some changes with a difference cannot be overlooked. The media in Kashmir has become vibrant in the past 21 years, courtesythe conflict. As they say that conflict serves as a “green pasture” for journalists, this can be truly seen in Kashmir. For a long time, Kashmir hogged the international headlines. Journalists who would have not imagined getting a break in the national media could splash their stories across the pages of The Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Times et al.

Journalism flourished – from eight newspapers to 800 newspapers. It is slowly becoming an industry and the source of permanent livelihood for thousands of people. There are scores of graduates from the Media Education Research Centre in Kashmir University who not only man the newspapers but also reach international universities after bagging prestigious fellowships.

Despite all the “positives” of this conflict seen in the flourishing of journalism, the institution has faced tremendous pressure from both state and non-state actors. So far, one or the other side has killed 13 journalists and many journalists have faced jail, harassment, intimidation, restriction and much more. But by all accounts, amid the difficulties, journalism in Kashmir has survived and has served the people’s interest to a very large extent.

There have been some negative effects as well. Mushrooming of newspapers by almost anybody and everybody has cast a shadow over the genuineness of the institution. Blackmailing and exploitation by those who easily get the registration for a newspaper from the Registrar of Newspapers of India and who do not have a commitment to the profession have brought a bad name to it. They are unfortunately encouraged and promoted by the government in one way or another. For genuine newspapers, the Government of India has banned Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) advertisements – which are the biggest source of sustenance – and those whose print run doesn’t cross more than a few 100 copies are bestowed with huge revenues. Over the last three years, three main newspapers – Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir and Kashmir Times- have been blacklisted by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in regard to DAVP advertisements. This has been done in view of an Advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. No reason was given for this, but it is believed that MHA thinks that these newspapers “promote secessionism”. This does not hold much water as the media in Kashmir has been doing a balancing act and reflecting the situation on the ground, and blocking the advertisements on this premise is unjustified and uncalled for. It surely pushes the media to the wall and strengthens the feeling that Kashmir is discriminated against. In the North East, insurgency has been on for 50 years but newspapers have not been choked like this even as they do the same job.

Journalism in Kashmir has, however, not remained apolitical. Its history, political instability and sense of betrayal have played important roles in defining certain benchmarks. When the armed rebellion began in 1990, there was hardly any Kashmiri who could distance himself from the “dominant sentiment” prevailing in the valley. A 1000-odd IAS and Kashmir Administrative Service officers shot off a memorandum to the United Nations seeking intervention in pressurising Government of India to put an end to human rights abuses in Kashmir. Five senior officers were dismissed and thousands of employees went on strike for three months and returned to offices only after they were reinstated.

So the narrative for the journalists was also well-defined. They necessarily did not become the part of the “struggle for liberation”, but they surely promoted the cause as it remained the dominant sentiment for people. Reflecting the sentiment and the gross violation of human rights was their duty as journalists and they could hardly avoid it. That is why many of them faced the wrath of the state that blamed them for being part of the rebellion. Journalists could not delineate themselves from the suspicion with which the government saw every Kashmiri. It was impossible as they were born, brought up and lived here. It is true that in many cases the journalists did not take the lid off the “excesses” by non-state actors. But this was largely due to the pressures and the fear of reprisal from these same non-state actors. They could draw a line between a uniformed man and someone who was not donning a uniform. But that in any case did not certify their “antecedents” as being “pro-movement”.

Many journalists became the targets of militants, newspapers were banned and reporters were abducted and shot at. This was a situation where you could not keep all sides happy. The initial years of conflict were a testing period for the media in Kashmir. Direct threats had become the order of the day. For many years the journalists worked under that shadow. However, with the changing dynamics in militancy, the foreigners took control and they were less media-savvy than the locals. Except for the latest threat issued on March 15, 2012, the past few years have been calm.

This threat was issued jointly by Tehreek-e-ShariatIslami, Save Kashmir Movement, Al-Nasreen, Al-Arfeen, Al-Mansooreen, Jehad-ul-Islam Askari, Al-Jabar raiding team and many other militant outfits. A local news agency quoted the spokesman saying that the meeting of commanders of these outfits was held under the chairmanship of Abdullah Ghaznavi. “The media men have been warned to remain away from security agencies and police officers. Those journalists should stop strengthening the occupation and instead highlight the pain and suffering of Kashmiris due to oppressive state sponsored policies”, the spokesman said. As the conflict continues, threats – both visible and invisible – continue to loom over the heads of journalists. However, the veracity of this statement coming from the “real militant organisations” has not been verified.

For a Kashmiri journalist it was difficult to name the armed rebellion as “terrorism”. And in equal terms it was not digestible for the government to see it as the “jihad” and call them “mujahideen”. So the middle-path of “militants” was somehow acceptable to both. Except for the opinion pages, that too in the last part of the two decades of militancy, the journalists could not voice a direct opinion on the contentious issues of “terrorism” or “separatism”. It was perhaps with the internal strife in Pakistan that the meaning of the word “terrorism” started changing and in some cases it became acceptable for the readers in Kashmir as well.

However, the newspapers have not changed their terminology as yet. Palatable (to both India and Pakistan) terms like Pakistan Administered Kashmir continue to be guiding journalists and newspapers here. It is different in mainstream media in both India and Pakistan who continue to call this Kashmir as “Indian Occupied Kashmir” and the Indian papers call the other side as “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”. Kashmiris have distanced themselves from this war of terminology and sought to follow a “safer path”. It is very difficult to make out, to what extent the media in Kashmir has downplayed or overplayed the terrorism or separatism. It depends largely upon the situations and so far the Kashmir press has confined itself to reflection of the situation, of course in the background of the volatile political conflict that has been raging for two decades now.

Indian nationalism has always been a matter of debate in Kashmir. And the media is not an exception. With political blunders pouring in from Delhi right from 1947, it has hardly been seen as immersing itself in the Kashmiri society. Betrayals on the part of successive Indian governments have made a huge dent to this concept in Kashmir. Not withstanding the doling out of favours and packages, there is hardly any change on this front. As discussed earlier, the eye of suspicion on an average Kashmiri has further distanced him or her from the mainstream. The demand for a political resolution of the problem of Kashmir has dominated the political discourse for the last two decades, thus pushing the concept of Indian nationalism to the background.

I am reminded of how Kashmiri journalists were treated during the Kargil war in 1999. While their entry was banned from Srinagar, the journalists based in Delhi were allowed (rather their entry was facilitated) to visit Kargil by taking direct flights to Leh. This was ample proof of how Kashmiri journalists were seen by the Government of India, which has always been swearing that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.

This state of affairs has virtually divided the media in Kashmir and Jammu. It is a fact that media in Jammu is more slanted towards the “national mainstream” and talks about Kashmir’s “struggle” openly as terrorism. Unfortunately the lines have been drawn on communal lines. This sense has been actually drawn from the politically-motivated differences which have put the regions at loggerheads. This has resulted in loss of representation to Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu and to an extent to the minorities in Kashmir valley. The coverage of the Amarnath land row in 2008 is a case which could define how the media is divided on regional and – more so – communal lines.

In Kashmir, however, the media has a difficult job to draw a line. While the separatists who either nurse the pro-Pakistan or the Independent Kashmir ideology cannot be wished away and have a reflection on overall functioning of institutions, even the so-called pro-India and mainstream parties have been toying a “well crafted” policy of “appeasing” the separatists and Pakistan to avoid a backlash in the elections. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s assertion in the state assembly in 2010 that, “Kashmir had acceded and not merged with India” brings loads of explanation to this situation. So does the soft separatism policy of opposition People’s Democratic Party. It is important to see the functioning of the institutions like that of media in this politically-motivated and sometimes confused background.

 

Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/shahbasharat/2776596326/]

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More from Shujaat Bukhari


  • Rashmi Talwar

    I agree with Mr Shujaat Bukhari on the role of the media in Kashmir during the conflict that started in 1989 onward.
    It is also true that many newspapers emerged during that time as the writer points out ” from eight to 800″. The media in Kashmir unfortunately was caught between the devil and the deep sea. Also many sane voices who had a vision of Kashmir’s dangerous paths and liaisons were smothered, and a popular sentiment took over and was intensified by the culture of the gun.
    When Pakistan as a country was being doled out aid by US and other countries during the Afghan occupation by USSR , it looked flushed with joy ! A joyous time — accrued out of money that poured by Foreign lands ! and Kashmiris felt one with them, owing to religiosity, culture etc but when it was seen that the stoking country Pakistan was turning into a failed state , some of the hawks and hardliners changed their lingo to ‘Azaadi’ or Freedom for Kashmir.

    Why didn’t they think of Freedom for Greater Kashmir including the areas in India as also occupied by Pakistan or China?

    In my opinion no solution can be solved by the gun, many like me too vouch for that.

    After having stoked fires of hatred and communalism in Punjab , Pakistan had tried its utmost to get a separate Punjab by the name of Khalistan and thus cut off the main route to Kashmir through Punjab from the rest of India.

    I know the price Punjabis paid in blood and lives in Punjab during the mid seventies and thereafter till 1989 . However the Roti -beti ka rishta (the relations based on sharing food and giving or taking a daughter in marriage between the two communities of Hindus and Sikhs) finally prevailed to save the situation. It is not merely that the people came to their senses one-fine-day. A heavy hand was used and many lost their near and dear ones and our Golden Temple saw the ignominy as a mute spectator to its devastation and desecration ..
    Discrimination prevailed for the entire community for the fault of a few. Many sikhs were blacklisted in foreign countries too and are still in the same category.

    Coming back to the role of Media then, in Punjab …. the newspapers made it a point to be inclusive of saner voices alongside the separatist ones. Many sane sikhs stood out against this . Media-persons faced the same fear of the gun of a terrorist or of a policemen, lingering over their heads as of journalists in Kashmir.
    Many media persons were sacrificed for speaking in favor of terrorists or against them , between the two warring sides.
    However in Kashmir the situation aggravates as along with being a Kashmiri the dominant community there has been unfortunately been labelled according to the world situation on religious lines. The Kashmiri Journalist therefore has to take a double blow.
    It is like in a family situation “When a father , mother , son or daughter commits a crime the whole family faces the brunt ”

    I feel Good Newspapers must be encouraged by Govt but in turn these papers must also bring in saner voices to sound balanced and guide the people to prosperity , progress and peace, but most of them err on this aspect instead flying on the wave of sensationalism just like the many TV channels these days . Media has to act responsibly and ”seen” to be acting that way by the general public .. otherwise media cannot blame the public for forming opinions in which public blames the media for stirring the public in ungainly directions . … Dear Writer this is only my Humble opinion … rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

  • Adfar Shah

    A very objective and perceptive piece by Dr Bukhari.yes,conflict proved a boon for certain sections of the Kashmiri society.A considerable class who at the onset of conflict were too poor got rich abrubtly (neo-richs),similarly writers emerged out of nothing and papers increased manifold.actually the conflict situation proved a set back to law and order thereby increasing and encouraging every kind of deviant behaviour and new emerging job trends.Also papers and paper owners increased for people thought that reporting conflict only can fill all the paper almost,which is still even continuing.Kudos to Shujaat sahab for daring to unravel this bitter truth.

  • Molvi Mushtaq

    A very objective assessment of the media in Kashmir indeed. Among all the reasons and causative factors given out by him, his reference to blunders by Central Govt is apt. Perhaps Govt only gave a special status but failed to treat it as special in terms of decision making. As a result, it was similarly treated politically as other states – all tricks, treacheries, gaming, etc were as prevalent in Kashmiri politics as any other state. It is however, baffling to see that unlike any other conflict zone, why is it that only media flourished? Perhaps it had do with the narratives and the creators of media. There were different types of people who created media, joined media or controlled media. Terrorists, separatists, political entities, security forces, intelligence agencies, trade, tourism industries, and almost everyone needed media and created media. The funds that flowed or are still flowing is sometimes so shocking to learn. Many larger than life media icons or owners initially used guns to terminate lives got the tools that could cause mass violence. On the other hand, government needed media to obscure the vision of people, agencies needed media to portray peace or success, security forces needed media to exhibit valour, separatists needed media to exaggerate their following as well as to blame government agencies or cause turbulence, and so on. Media people knew it too well how to make the best out of it. As they say media in valley knows only to make money and when every hand had money (illegal off course) why would it not flourish. Also, the normal pblic in Kashmir is politically very aware and can debate on almost everything. They also can create explanations of all shades, as per the demand.
    I, however, do not agree with Shujaat about professional upgrade of media fraternity in Valley. While regard him as a very emancipated journalist, there are hardly any who believe in the principles of journalism. Merely doing a course or being good in making reports is not being a good journalist, It takes a lot of ethics, lot of courage and of direction and onus was on the likes of him to promote the ethics. Somehow, this did not happen.
    Anyways, it is never late. There is a need to infuse capability in these boys so that they can sustain the industry. It only scares me to think of the day when has to burst and when the State or Centre starts demanding accountability?

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