Hitting The Wrong Note

Has the media used the protests against Pragaash to once again portray a negative image of Kashmir?

ByShujaat Bukhari
Hitting The Wrong Note
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The ongoing rock band controversy in Kashmir has once again exposed the great disconnect between the national and local media in the valley. While the former chose to stereotype it to project Kashmir as a very intolerant society, to the extent of seeing Talibanisation taking roots in a society, the latter remained content with the event coverage only.

For the national media, particularly the electronic media, there is an interesting convergence of two contrasts when it comes to dissecting the situation in Kashmir. While on one hand, they “celebrate” the normalcy after 85 percent people come out to vote in Panchayat elections and call it a defeat of separatism and radical elements, on the other, even a very local issue of a smear campaign by certain people against the all-girl rock band, Pragaash, becomes the headline for the prime-time debate on the TV channels.

Going by the coverage of the campaign by TV channels and print media, which had a few tweets by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah coming to the defence of these teenage girls, and a “fatwa” by the “Grand Mufti” of Kashmir, one can easily say that it trivialised the issue and brought to the fore the inherent interest to not see Kashmir in a positive light. A simple FIR – as has been done now – could have stopped the campaign at its beginning, had the media not blown it out of proportion.

The rock band in question had not suddenly appeared on the scene in Kashmir, but had been performing there for quite some time. It was just an effort of three young girls who perhaps wanted to do something different. Even the number of the girls involved in this band did not increase over a period of time, which suggests that it was not something that had overwhelmed Kashmir, and as such was not becoming a “threat”.

Music has been an integral part of Kashmir’s rich cultural and literary traditions and women have played an important role in popularising it, and continue to do so. Kashmir’s dying “Sufiyana Mosiqui” is finding a survival in a group of Kashmiri girls who perform it with zeal on stage. Whether religion allows it or not is a separate discussion which should be left to religious scholars who are designated to discuss it. It is a fact that a campaign was launched on social networking site facebook against the band with some suggesting that it was anti-Islamic and they needed to be “taught a lesson”. However, that was a viewpoint of a certain section and that necessarily did not represent the entire Kashmiri society.

Social networking sites have been otherwise at the centre of discussion for the lack of accountability and the negative impact they have on society. Nevertheless, whatever is expressed, except for the abuses used, should be respected as a viewpoint. That doesn’t mean that the entire Kashmiri society is against the band, and is adamant on banishing them. There were many among even those who are called “extremists” who suggested that if they (the girls) had done anything wrong, there should be an effort to reform them. So, all the viewpoints were heard in the course of this “heated” debate over the last one week. There was no discussion on the issue at any level of society in Kashmir, except in the media.

With the exception of a few, the national media projected it as an onslaught on the “Sufi” and tolerant culture of Kashmir. It smacked of a “conspiracy” as is always perceived vis-à-vis New Delhi in Kashmir. These conspiracy theories have been flung around for over 65 years, but they were mostly centered towards the government and political set up.

This time though, the media has placed itself in the thick of this theory. There are many questions which merit an answer from media owners and practitioners. While the local press in Kashmir reported the “controversy” only as an event and confined itself to day-to-day happenings, the issue had many dimensions when it came to the priority set out by the national media. For example, the so-called “fatwa” was blown out of proportion without going into the question of whether the “Grand Mufti” can issue a fatwa like this. If at all the national media was sincere in “rescuing Kashmir” from this “big crisis”, it should have discussed whether the Mufti was competent enough to even issue a fatwa. His history of fatwas has been so controversial that there are hardly any people who believe that his decisions are in the spirit of the religion. Yet this was not discussed on any of the panels. Similarly, the channels ignored the support on facebook and Twitter, which emerged in favour of these girls and which was also representing a larger section of society.

The unfortunate part of the story is that every time TV channels have a discussion on Kashmir, they only invite leaders of traditional political parties to air their views, and there is hardly any scope for civil society members to give a different picture of what is actually happening on-ground. Political parties, for obvious reasons, only confine themselves to tirades against each other to get political mileage. The third view is seldom projected in the TV studios. Not only are the anchors comfortable with political sound-bites to further their “jaundiced” view on Kashmir, but in order to prove that what they think is right, they even invite what they themselves call the “fringe elements” of society. If at all someone is a fringe element why do they project him/her? It is clearly to suit the pre-conceived notion of projecting Kashmir in a particular way. Making a mountain out of a mole hill has been a long-time habit of treating news from Kashmir.

With the government claiming that the number of militants in Kashmir had reduced to a negligible level, the elections and arrival of a huge rush of tourists being seen as indicators of normalcy, the media continues to play spoilsport by projecting a false threat to what they call “Sufi tradition” (I challenge them to even know its real meaning) of Kashmir. When Junoon, the band from Pakistan, performed on the banks of Dal Lake in Kashmir in 2008, thousands of Kashmiris were standing on their feet to cheer the band.

There is much more happening in the Valley to protect its traditions which are deep-rooted in a unique ethos of high values, and that is the hidden side of the picture. Let those who have an interest in projecting Kashmir as the next destination for the Taliban scream at the top of their voices. Kashmir has the capacity to protect itself irrespective of a hostile Indian media. The disconnect between local and national media has always been a reality, but there is a need to bridge that gap in the interest of saving the institution of the media – if not the fragile political connect between New Delhi and Srinagar.

Images Courtesy: Farooq Javed

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