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.”
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.