Author: Saadut
•9:03 PM

The conflict in Kashmir has unfolded into a tragedy of colossal human loss. In a place which has the highest concentration of armed soldiers in the world, much more than in Afghanistan or Iraq, almost 80,000 people have been reported to been killed (even if you go by the local govt reports still the number is enormously in thousands)and thousands still missing. In a place where tragedies have touched almost everybody commoner, mourning’s have often been subject by the state and Indian media to political convenience.  Indian media and New Delhi have often used and presented tragedies and human loss in Kashmir to suit their own narratives, the ones which are blamed on the state arms conveniently forgotten and muted for, while of ‘their own’ are outraged for. Such dichotomy between ‘their people’ and ‘our people’ draws clear lines in Kashmir, between the ones that India cares for and the ones who become targets of its violence and enforced silence. 

The recent attack on a CRPF camp in Srinagar where 5 soldiers were killed (along with two militants), was followed by the killing of a civilian at EidGah in CRPF firing (which was seen as a ‘revenge killing’). The loss of life in both places was deplorable, such a precious waste of life, but the outcry from India was limited to the CRPF jawans killed, no one seemed bothered about civilians. This indifference of India towards civilian killings in Kashmir is not anything new. 24 year old Tahir Ahmed Sofi, killed on 7th March in Baramulla at point blank range by Indian army soldiers, found no outrage in India and neither were there any calls for justice there. In the one month since the hanging of Afzal Guru, more than 350 civilians have been inured and 5 civilians been killed in Kashmir, but none of this was found news worthy or worth any outrage in the Indian media. Sadly what seems to matter to the Indian state and the media is the place of its own fatalities rather than any human loss. While the Indian parliament debated at length the death of 5 CRPF jawans in the Srinagar attack, the same outrage and concern was missing when 76 CRPF personnel were killed in April 2010 in a Naxal attack in Dantewada, nor was such outrage seen when in January 2013, bodies of CRPF Jawans (who were missing in action with Naxals) had been cut open and bombs stuffed inside them. In June 2010, 26 CRPF personnel, including an Assistant Commandant, were killed by Naxals in an ambush attack in Chattisgarh yet such outrage was not seen. Should the value of life and outrage for Indian soldiers in India not be uniform for those killed in Kashmir and Naxal areas? Most importantly, should the condemnation of a human life lost (be it of a soldier or a civilian) not be on the merits of humanity than on the merits of ‘our people’ and ‘the place of incident’? 

Expressing outrage is human; making jingoism of outrage is sheer politics. And it is this convenient jingoism that has taken over the Indian state and media. Outrage should be for lives lost and not based on the political or geographic affiliations of these lives.  

In this information age, as tools of access to knowledge become common, so do the tools used by powers to manipulate the presentment of that knowledge.  On 14th March India’s home Minister Sushil Kumar Shine stated in the Indian Parliament that only 47 civilians were killed in the state during 2010 unrest. Clearly this was not a typographical error since the same numbers (and speech) was repeated twice by him. Around 120 civilians (mostly kids) were killed in the 2010 turmoil in Kashmir, the records of which are not only present with media and state agencies but have also been mentioned in an earlier PIL filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court seeking, filing of FIR in these cases. The PIL also submitted that out of 117 persons killed in police and CRPF firing, FIRs were lodged in only 37 cases and charge sheet produced only in only 7 cases. So why did the Indian Home minister provide wrong figures to the Parliament? Was it a case of deliberate manipulation of numbers or sheer indifference towards the killings of civilians in Kashmir, where 47 or 120 civilians killed in Kashmir made no difference for New Delhi? 

Since in present times the availability of information is not restricted by time and location, its flow and reach is wide. And when governments fail to force denial of this information to its citizens, they use the same tools of information dissemination for manipulating of information and complicating narratives. When you cannot stop the flow and availability of information, create conditions of uncertainty where facts are compromised to suit political conveniences and then propagated on a larger scale.  When an information-disarray is forced by the governments, whatever is propagated on loud media channels is sold as truth. In the aftermath of the attack on CRPF in Srinagar, many Indian channels went berserk reporting that the CRPF officials had been forced by the state govt to abandon their weapons days before the attack, making them vulnerable, cue that was also taken by political parties in New Delhi to whip rhetoric. In fact many Indians on social media used old images of CRPF shooting with slingshots, to prove their point of denial of arms to these soldiers. What however they could not explain was the presence of loaded magazine pouches (and guns hanging behind the shoulders) in these pictures. The claims of Indian media channels about the lack of arms to these CRPF soldiers were later rebutted by none other than IG of CRPF in Kashmir. While the jingoistic media goes overboard in reporting non confirmed narratives, they conveniently ignore the facts of conflict trauma forced on commoners in Kashmir. During the 2010 turmoil in Kashmir, 45 youth permanently lost their eyesight (as per a study by the SHMS Hospital in Srinagar) while during the current turmoil (post Afzal hanging) 12 cases of youth with eyesight loss have been reported. These youth will be forced to a life of despondency, maimed by violent acts of state arms, yet for the Indian state and the Indian media they represent, like other Kashmiri’s, the ‘other people’ hence the criminally convenient silence. 

Fact is that the Indian media is not only fast becoming a platform to alter truth when it comes to Kashmir, but it also propagates a dangerous nationalistic theory, where all Kashmiris are painted black for political convenience. The Pragash controversy on some uncalled for FaceBook comments about a girls music band were not only blown out of proportions by the Indian media, but it was also used a whip to castigate Kashmir en masse. And the same media remained silent when IPTK and APDP in December 2012 released a well documented report on ‘Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir’ documenting hundreds of cases of human rights violations by state arms.    

When the power of technology has broken barriers for access to information and knowledge, the state and its supporting actors have been misusing their powers to alter, cloak, manipulate and misrepresent this information.  In conflicts such attempts of the state and media can be dangerous in not only forcing people to shift to alternate sources but this also widens the trust deficit between the two.  When New Delhi itself has been apathetic to the pain and agony of Kashmiris for decades, how does it then expect Kashmiris to be pathetic to the pain of its representatives in Kashmir? For its indifference and apathy, when even mourning or calls for justice become subservient to political convenience in New Delhi, India has no right to claim any moral ground in Kashmir. The human tragedies in Kashmir (both in uniform & without) should have made India to introspect and make efforts for a permanent political resolution rather than divide between ‘our people’ and ‘them Kashmiris’. By pretending to be an ostrich with its head in the sand, India is only strengthening the walls between New Delhi and Kashmir which only seem more impregnable.

19th March, 2013
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