Languages Of A Security State
By Nawaz Gul Qanungo
28 September, 2010
The language of most of the Indian media in covering Kashmir has not just been ill-informed but even insensitive. That, however, should not be a surprise when Maoists have long been branded and dismissed as a “menace”. That the so-called security of the state is what often dictates this language is a given, but the security of what’s been called the idea of India hence, ironically, stands at risk
“A tear-gas shell arced over a crowded street in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area.” Roughly in this manner, more than two months ago, a piece of news analysis in one of India’s best known, and respected, daily newspapers began. “It landed, with surreal precision,” the essay went on to describe, “on Tufail Mattoo.” More graphic details seemed to be required and so were added: it ended “ripping apart the 17-year-old’s skull.”
As if those disgraceful third-rate, mostly Hindi, “news” channels – that feel no hesitation whatsoever in creating incredibly cheap sensation out of human tragedies – were not enough, a tragic death was now being given a sickening graphic treatment in a newspaper for no apparent reason, other than, well, cheap sensationalism. Mark the insensitivity with which the tragic death of Tufail Ahmed Mattoo was described on July 10, 2010 in The Hindu: “Four weeks ago, a tear-gas shell arced over a crowded street in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area. It landed, with surreal precision, on Tufail Mattoo, ripping apart the 17-year-old’s skull.”
Sadly, this is but just one example of such reportage, not to talk about the hackneyed analyses related to Kashmir doled out by the Indian print media not just this summer but over the years, even decades.
In 2008, former head of Hindustan Times Vir Sanghvi wrote: “Have you been reading the news coming out of Kashmir with a mounting sense of despair? I know I have.” He was talking about the agitation in the valley against the Amarnath land transfer. “It’s clear now that the optimism of the last few months — all those articles telling us that normalcy had returned to Kashmir — was misplaced. Nothing has really changed since the 1990s.” (Emphasis added). “A single spark can set the whole valley on fire, so deep is the resentment, anger and the extent of secessionist feeling,” he continued to his horror. It was the language of a layman that he truly is, for the remit.
Sanghvi’s, along with some similar analyses around the same time, was considered by most in Kashmir a reluctant admission of the valley’s hard political realities. It wasn’t. He wrote in the next few lines: “[It] is true that we have rigged elections in Kashmir... [But] ...nobody disputes that the last election was fair.” Several perplexities later over what needed to be done, he wrote: “The short answer is: damn all.” It is to trash the legitimate demands of Kashmir rather than allow them in the name of a genuine democracy.
The seriousness with which one looks at such writings coming out of the Indian media is not to give it any respectability. But the point is just what informs the general public opinion in India on Kashmir, or perhaps any other subject for that matter. Sadly, it is the likes of Vir Sanghvi.
The Indian media has deliberately and persistently been using words like trouble makers, mischief makers and mobs for protesters in Kashmir despite the glaring fact that while their tool of resistance is at most just a stone, they are being responded with bullets fired to kill. That, however, should not really be a surprise when Naxals or Maoists have long been branded and dismissed as a “menace”.
What guides the majority of the Indian media to follow such line? “The task is to make money,” said the noted Indian commentator, Aijaz Ahmed, in an interview last year. “News is there to decorate the advertisement.” And then, he added: “They have the viewpoint of the Indian upper class, the Indian liberal state and the Indian national security state. This is the framework within which they report anything.” “Ideology” is one thing that must be added to that list, though.
Is it a surprise then that the moment the Indian home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, stated – with utter disregard to the ground reality – that there was “clear link” between anti-India protests in Kashmir and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Indian media lapped it up in breathless delight? Phone call “intercepts” were played, and played up. Asiya Andrabi – suddenly made out to be the central turbine of the movement – was sending her child overseas for education. And this, we were supposed to believe, was a horror.
Talking more about the “Indian national security state”, read MJ Akbar: “Why is the Indian Army the one-point target of those who want to break India? The answer is uncomplicated. The police, whether state or central, cannot defend the territorial integrity of India. The Indian Army can. It is therefore in the interest of secessionists and their mentors in Islamabad to create discord between the Indian Army and the Indian state.” There is not a word of mention of the havoc the army, the paramilitary and police have wrought upon the people in Kashmir over the past decades. Not to talk about the popular surge in peaceful protests in Kashmir since at least three years. That the so-called security of the state is what dictates this language is a given. Ironically, what hence stands at risk is the security of what has been called the idea of India.
However, this narrative has to some extent been punctured, mainly at two places. One is where Kashmiri journalists have managed to enter the Indian media and raise a voice from within. Najeeb Mubarki is a recent example that stands out. In fact, The Economic Times came out with some unexpected, favourable ‘special coverage’ of the current protests and killings in Kashmir. And second, of course, is Internet. It was here where the real translation of the phone “intercept” was displayed and spread like wildfire as soon as the tapes were played by the Indian media. Then, again, it was Internet that helped spread the videos showing what was widely believed to be the local police parading and torturing Kashmiri youth forced to go naked. The Indian broadcast media hardly spoke though some of the print media, including mainly The Indian Express, reported the matter. But then, all that a report in The Hindu could see in the whole phenomenon of e-protest in Kashmir was what it called an “ugly world of online rebels”.
Then there are the exceptions. But, looking at the kind of response the writings on Kashmir of the likes of Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra invite in the cyberspace, it is not too difficult to imagine how they are received by the Indian public. As for what the general response of an Indian layperson is when it comes to Kashmir, the answer is not too different from what, well, again, Vir Sanghvi asked himself in one of his more recent articles: “Why do the Kashmiris hate us so much? And what is it that they actually want?” Needless to say, he made every effort to show he was “bewildered”.
Finally, what is in this for the Kashmir media itself? Perhaps a lesson for what not to be. But also a need of being aware of, and to learn from, the fact that the Indian media, so despised in the valley, also carries a very significant part of the legacy that sought, fought for and achieved independence for a country from British imperialism. A legacy that Kashmir is yet nowhere near to showing any signs of attaining.
The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. Follow him at www.drqanungo.blogspot.com