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The Problem With Media’s “Patriotic” Coverage Of Jammu And Kashmir

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By Akshay Tarfe:

In 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Kashmir as the world’s ‘largest militarised zone’ with the presence of more than 1 million troops from India, China and Pakistan, combined. The Line of Control (LOC) the line which separates the former princely state of Kashmir and Jammu between India and Pakistan, was also declared as one of ‘the most dangerous borders’ in the world by Foreign Policy magazine. The CIA Fact book also confirmed this fact by calling it the ‘most militarised territorial dispute in the world’ between three nuclear neighbours in South Asia. Many of you, may not be even surprised by reading these facts about the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

But it’s easy to not have any idea about the civilian cost of war in this region. Why is that? Because your media has been failed to inform you so. Edward W. Desmond, a correspondent for TIME magazine, rightly noted in 1991 that civilians are the main victims of clash between the security forces and rebels (in Jammu and Kashmir). The militancy was at its peaking during this time in the region.

The Human rights watch report claims that 50,000 people have been killed in the state since insurgency began in 1989. The Jammu and Kashmir government informs that 13,226 civilians have been killed by militants along with 5,369 policemen. Security forces have killed 3,642 civilians according to the official data. The actual numbers of deaths, forced arrests and missing person records are expected to be more.

The news about the state in national media, hardly mentions such high number of civilian deaths in the region. The focus of the news mostly remains on politics, military and ceasefire violations. The state-centric approach to cover a state like Jammu and Kashmir has led to the alienation of its people. Many media researchers and journalists have pointed this out.

Tavleen Singh, veteran Indian journalist, confirms this in her book ‘Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors’ by writing, “the press was the main reason why the alienation of Kashmir began. The people were sensitive about the way they were being reported in the national press which was deliberately misinterpreting facts and events, making it possible for governments to get away with any short-sighted policy.”

She further adds, “The national press, out of misguided patriotism, has always chosen to tell the national public less than the whole truth about Kashmir.”

kashmir protest
A protest against the rape and murder of Kashmiri women, a topic generally avoided by mainstream media. Source: Yawar Nazir/Getty

Another Indian researcher named Teresa Joseph, highlights the lack of civilian perspectives in the national press about Jammu and Kashmir. She studied the coverage of Jammu Kashmir by leading national newspapers in India during 1990s. The results were shocking and depressing. She published her results through research paper titled ‘Kashmir Human Rights and The Indian Press’ where she concludes, “The over-dependence on government sources appears to be the bane of the Indian press reports on Kashmir giving them an inherent bias towards the government position on the issues concerned, while ignoring the ground reality.”

The research clearly pointed towards how the government dominates the media narrative about the state. Another study about the coverage of strikes in the Kashmir valley by research Danish Nabi Gadda pointed out how the strikes were down played as small events in the national media. Gadda concluded by saying, “The national press chose to tow the official line, denying its audience a fair picture they ought to see of the Kashmir conflict.”

The comparative study of the coverage of strikes by the local press in the state and national media also showed many contradictions. The hard-hitting coverage of human rights violation by the local press has resulted in the persecution by the government using laws such as the Public Safety Act or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The problem with the press coverage of Jammu and Kashmir has been also recognised on the official by through Committee for Initiative in Kashmir. The report submitted by the committee accused Indian media for stereotyping the Kashmiri Muslims as a group which wants to join Pakistan and ungrateful to India. The press didn’t help in the mainstreaming of the people but contributed to further alienation, the committee added. The press has more or less followed official lines in the matter of Jammu and Kashmir, noted the committee.

The national press in India has clearly failed to provide a comprehensive perspective about Jammu and Kashmir to its readers. No wonder, the feeling of alienation is still growing among the citizens of the troubled state. Few reports suggested that the crowds at the funeral of a militant were larger than the crowds at the funeral of late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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