Many in the media played to the nationalist gallery at the expense of a 16-year old.
The feel-good story of the day is Ghalib Guru scoring 95 per cent in the Jammu and Kashmir board examination. Ghalib is Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s son, a fact that headlines have led with while detailing this “against-all-odds” story.
Sample these stories that came out in The Indian Express, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Hindu.
And these from Hindi dailies Nai Duniya, Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala and Patrika.
All the above stories carry Ghalib’s photo, sometimes juxtaposed with his father’s pictures, seemingly to draw the readers’ attention to the contrasting paths the father and son have taken. The Quint in a rather distasteful picture photoshopped a “passed” stamp onto Ghalib’s childhood photo. Most of the stories are peppered with details like how Ghalib likes to wear jeans, likes Hindi movie songs, wants to become a cardiologist and “a good human being”, and wants to study at AIIMS in Delhi. Indeed the peg is how a “terrorist’s” son has chosen to focus on his studies instead of joining a militant camp across the border. The stories focus on Ghalib’s reverence for his mother and highlights very little of his thoughts on his father and his execution. In doing so, the media subtly presented Ghalib as an idiom for the Kashmiri youth that has moved on and shunned separatist sentiments.
Hilal Mir, Editor-in-Chief of Kashmir Reader, is not surprised. “The Indian media acts, in most cases, like the extension of the Indian state. They can see separatist sentiments waning; they can wish anything but it is not happening. Right now, they should come to Pulwama where an entire district has been agitation for the past 15 days to build a memorial in the memory of militants. They can go on fooling themselves.”
Indeed if you contrast reports in the Delhi media with those that came out in the Kashmiri media, Mir’s point becomes clear. Kashmir Reader has a quote by Ghalib that says he wished his father was alive to guide him better. Greater Kashmir carried a piece headlined: “My Father Showed Me The Way: Afzal’s Guru’s son”. (The piece itself is a Press Trust of India copy used by NDTV, India Today, Economic Times and some others, though, NDTV carried a version without the bit about Ghalib crediting his father.) Greater Kashmir also carried other pieces where Ghalib has stated how he would like to fulfil his father’s wishes. Rising Kashmir’s story focused on Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani announcing a reward for board exam toppers for managing to study in the “worst kind of conflict zone”.
The Delhi media has earlier too reported on Kashmir playing to the nationalist gallery. But, more importantly, could it have avoided focussing on his father at a time when Ghalib was celebrating an achievement that is truly his own?
Ghalib’s mother, Tabassum, definitely feels so. “This is a happy time for us, and the Indian media comes saying things like ‘look the terrorist’s son has done this, he’s done that’. One journalist asked me how a terrorist’s son could achieve this? They don’t know that his father was good in studies, too, and got first division, he was a medical student, too. I am 35, I can take these questions, but my son is only 16,” she says, adding that she rejects the “terrorist” tag and that for Kashmir he is a freedom fighter. Tabassum speaks at length of the “injustice” of not being able to meet her husband before he was executed.
What about newspapers splashing her son’s pictures? Does it worry her that Ghalib may be at the receiving end of vicious attacks because of his father? “Not really, people will come to know anyway who his father was. We have accepted that this issue will not leave us.” A journalist in Srinagar working for a Delhi-based newspaper, however, feels that publishing the picture is not as much of a problem as the story itself. “There’s a sort of celebration around this news but I am against burdening this child with unnecessary celebrityhood or with the history of his father. Why should you keep throwing his father’s past on his face? Comments like he will be the next Internet jihadi are already flying around because he has done well academically. I am uncomfortable with doing such stories. He should be allowed to carry on with his studies without being asked these questions and I didn’t file a story on this,” the journalist said.
Some of the comments on the issue indeed are vicious, calling Ghalib an “educated terrorist”, but is it any surprise when a media organisation like CNN-IBN tweets the story stating that Ghalib “broke the stereotype”? You CNN-IBN, clearly did not.