Friday, February 19, 2010

Gul Nawaz's piece on Media and Kashmir

February 19, 2010

Their master’s bootlickers

The Indian media is definingly at peace with itself and its lords in the establishment. Look at its priorities in Kashmir

February 19, 2010

The place is not too far from the centre of the Srinagar city, it’s just a 15-minute drive and well inside the summer capital of J&K. But Nishat’s residential interiors are completely unremarkable – narrow tortuous roads, random lanes and by-lanes, cluttered, poor and unplanned construction all around, and with hardly any affluent inhabitants anywhere. Amir Khan, with eyes closed and in complete bliss with his bottle of coke, on top of a small shop shutter seems to be the only object that reminds you what the rest of the world is busy with. Though the Dal, which is a short walk away, provides a rather familiar but stark contrast in aesthetics.

Why would India’s “national” media give a bother if some unprovoked troops of the Border Security Force murder in cold blood a young boy of 16, in broad day light, in this sleepy locality of Srinagar? It doesn’t serve the on-screen aesthetics a so called national news channel demands for its bulletins. It doesn’t serve the national interests of the holy Central establishment cow, so why would the papers bother either? So what forces meant to secure have turned murderers. Perhaps it’s been too long – the truth doesn’t shock anymore.

Last few weeks, Kashmir was boiling over with street protests over the death of a 13-year-old, Wamiq Farooq, whom the police had shot in the head with a tear gas shell in close range during anti-India protests – stone-throwing battles that have lately come to look more like one-on-one street fights between young Kashmiri boys and the police. Just that the police reply with fatal bullets and tear gas shells when people throw stones at them. The summer capital had already been in complete coma for a week. Another 16-year-old Inayat Khan had been similarly killed last month. The national media didn’t give a damn.

But on February 5, a Friday, 16-year-old Zahid Farooq was shot dead by the troops at what could easily be termed point-blank range. While he was returning along with his friends from a rain-affected cricket pitch, he jeered at some security personnel. People refused to bury the body of the teenager before an FIR was registered and a post mortem done in video and in front of local residents. Hindustan Times called the killing “mysterious”. Perhaps it needed Omar Abdullah and P Chidambaram as witnesses to the murder. It wasn’t a matter of concern if Zahid’s friends – eye witness to the incident – had poured their hearts out narrating what had actually happened. Later on Monday, it was The Indian Express that went ahead and published on the front page of its Delhi edition in detail the findings of the government probe ordered over the incident. The findings suggested that a BSF officer shot the boy with a jawan’s Insas rifle:

“...a BSF officer in civvies was travelling along with his guards while another vehicle with securitymen was following them when the incident took place... The vehicles crossed the Nishat neighbourhoods which were unaffected by protests... Zahid [and his friends] were on their way home after rains had forced them to abandon a cricket match. When they saw the BSF vehicles approaching, they began booing. Suddenly, the two BSF vehicles stopped and jawans jumped out. So did the officer in the civvies... There was a verbal altercation. The boys hurled abuses at the BSF men and began running. This is when the BSF officer, according to the probe, took an Insas rifle from a jawan and shot Zahid Farooq in the chest. He was hit by a single bullet and police have recovered the cartridge.

The only problem with the eye witness account, and this report, was this: Zahid’s friends had maintained that Zahid was shot in the chest while they were running away. He should have got shot in the back. But that was precisely what had happened. The boys were wrong. Zahid was hit in the back. The range was so close that the bullet had pierced his body creating a much larger exit wound on his chest. The boys felt he was shot in the front.

The BSF had all along refuted the claim of the eye witnesses saying none of its soldiers were patrolling the area on that day. And now the state government was begging the Centre to force the BSF to come clean on the incident.

News channels, which shamelessly present the day’s newspaper reports as “breaking news” every morning, obviously brushed aside the Express report. Well. On Twitter:

Barkha Dutt: “The Mumbai police is making the right noises about securing the release of My name is Khan. But why am I not convinced? What a shameful situation this is.” And Rajdeep Sardesai: “Just when we thought it was a slow news day, [SPS] Rathore gets stabbed. CNN-IBN has a special [report] at 8.30 pm... Rathore may have got away with a crime, but nothing justifies this kind of reaction. We in the media too need to show restraint.”

But all this ignoring Kashmir was to change within hours for each and every national channel, and newspapers alike. Heavy snowfall in the higher reaches of the valley led to fatal avalanches killing more than a dozen army men. What were they doing there when the government had already given out warnings and evacuated even the last tourist from the areas? Well, 400 men were undergoing training at a high altitude warfare camp at Khilanmarg in Kashmir. What a contrast from Nishat’s sleepy neighbourhood. Spectacular visuals were here for the TV. And patriotic fodder for the papers abound.

So here were the media finally in Kashmir, but going paranoid over a disaster turned into a mark of a macho nation. Chief Editors came out tweeting in horror over what had happened. CNN-IBN’s Rajdeep didn’t miss the opportunity to tell us his reporter went to capture the images “in the spirit of ‘whatever it takes’”. The thought of something called “high altitude warfare” gave the news editors a high anyway. None other than the chief minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, came on live in national news to answer why the army men had not vacated after being warned of hostile weather. He replied: The men are meant to do precisely this… it’s their job… But we are doing everything we can and the rest of that.

So what the protectors had day-old blood on their hands still unwashed. They have had it since decades in a valley that still looks on, stunned.

PS: The reluctant admission by the Border Security Forces more than a week later was carried in the news headlines for a few hours by some Indian news channels, before the story was pushed back and removed. Ditto the newspapers. The fact remains that, when it comes to Kashmir, the Indian media like a faithful dog won’t talk about the filth of the Indian establishment before the government itself has given it a nod to do so. And that of course seldom happens. So when the Security Forces admit murder in a press briefing, the media flashes it since there’s hardly a choice. When innocent boys recount the same horror, it is quietly brushed aside. That it is the duty of the media to proactively investigate and find out the truth is an idea long abandoned and forgotten.

Meanwhile, the more recent killing of two militants in an encounter in Kulgam was given live coverage by all the so called national news channels. None spoke about the fact that the funeral of the two which was carried out by the local people was openly fired upon leaving eight wounded with bullets, one of them critically, and scores injured in the clashes thereafter.