Friday, November 11, 2011

Yeh Door Darshan Hai!

When Kashmir got its first 'dedicated' Kashmiri language satellite channel, the general response to it was optimistic. Kashmiris began to fancy that they, for a change, will have a voice. Little did they know that this channel was to become the most powerful propaganda tool in the hands of the Indian government. If there were an award for carrying propagandistic news and programmes shamelessly, DD Kashir would be a serious contender for it. This isn’t plain rhetoric: refer to the video.

The video begins with the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram announcing an ex-gratia relief of Rs. 5 lakh per person to the families of those “killed in the civil disturbances since June 11, 2010” – this date coincides with the brutal killing of the innocent Kashmiri boy Tufail Ahmad Mattoo by the Indian armed forces. [] He was coming home from tuition classes when CRPF men started chasing him and beat him mercilessly to death. His brain spilled out as a result of a tear gas shell hurled at him so he’s buried in two different graves []. Tufail happened to pass by a vicinity where protests had erupted against the Machil fake encounter of early 2010. These protests saw hundreds of youth killed and thousands, maimed or seriously injured. 

17 yr. old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo- Before & After June 11, 2010

The above-mentioned facts may be well-known but the funny thing is, DD Kashir never reported these deaths or army excesses when they happened- this is not an exaggeration- DD Kashir is highly regulated by the GOI and agencies. Whenever someone falls to a militant bullet, DD Kashir reports it as it ought to. However, the deaths caused by state forces- BSF, CRPF, J&K Police- are seldom reported. And the local media channels that did report these incidents were simply banned. It is a huge irony that DD Kashir proudly reports an ex-gratia relief package for families of people whose deaths it didn't report at all. So, who are the people whose families are being compensated? 

This is followed by a voice listing out the various provisions of the GOI’s damage-control exercise- branded as the 8-point package- and a background music that supposedly signifies hope and peace. The ex-gratia relief offered is also a part of this package. The voice then goes on to claim that the people of the valley have welcomed the package. Then comes an octogenarian man saying “it is a very good step”. He further says, “My son has studied in India(Kashmir)” besides other things. Who this elderly man is and what welcome step he talks about is a mystery to me. If it’s the 8-point package, my knowledge(and fact-checking) tells me that most of the families of the slain youth refused the ex-gratia relief. And when you reject parts of a package you’re, in effect, rejecting the whole package. Of course DD Kashir didn’t dare (or care) to interview one of those parents who had lost their sons or ask them how they viewed the 8-point package.

The Union Government, during the 2010 uprising, called the stone-pelting youth everything- from paid Pakistani agents to miscreants to ill-groomed children. Why, then, offer an ex-gratia relief to their bereaved families, DD Kashir obviously didn’t ask the government. I’m pretty sure that a great amount of India’s propaganda budget is spent on funding DD Kashir programmes like Pakistan Reporter, PTV Sach Kya Hai, Sarhad Ke Do Rukh, etc. All these shows are anti-Pakistan, propagandistic and very suffocating. For example, the show- Sarhad Ke Do Rukh(Two Faces of the Border)- shows how poor and devastated people in Pakistani Kashmir are, how their politics has ruined their lives & businesses and how religious extremism poses a constant threat to their lives. While these are genuine concerns, the human rights situation in Indian Kashmir is no better. This show airs concerns that may not necessarily be shared by the common Kashmiri (living in Indian Kashmir) as he has a lot to worry about already. It also speaks of hypocrisy of the Indian government- it thinks that the sufferings of people in Pakistani Kashmir can act as an effective shield for the woes of people living in Indian Kashmir. It also pitches India as less-draconian than Pakistan as if Pakistan were the benchmark for human rights and democractic values. Should a "democratic", secular country like India dwell on the fact that it is somewhat less cruel than Pakistan- a country created on communal basis and having spent most of its years under military regime? Or should India, on the other hand, strive to carry out a free and fair probe into the human rights abuse unleashed by its forces in Kashmir, amend draconian laws, ensure that Kashmiris are heard and understood?

The director of Door Darshan Kendra, Srinagar Mr. Rafiq Masoodi has gone on record to say that “Surely such programmes are not digested here. These are sponsored from outside. Removing them is not in my power” and “We have realised that these programmes are hard to digest as a result of which people are drifting away from the Kashmir channel”. []

While it is only fair to state that the situation on the other “rukh”(face) of the border is not very inspiring, there are greater problems on this side of the border; larger concerns, stifled voices that need to be highlighted and addressed. Some worthy producers at Door Darshan Kendra, Srinagar have been creating agricultural, health and career programmes which actually contribute to the society- you have to give them that. However, the larger problem of biased and/or gagged media needs to be addressed on a priority basis if the GOI wants to prove its sincerity towards the Kashmir issue and the Kashmiri people.

The presence of draconian acts (like the AFSPA- under which state forces can gun someone down on suspicion alone, the PSA- under which a person can be indefinitely detained without trial) combined with a gagged media presence is a dangerous mix, a breeding ground for human rights abuse. 

Economic packages and CBMs go only that far. I have repeatedly been told by the youth that one of their top grievances with the Indian state is the presence of biased media as it has created an environment of fear and of regular human rights abuse that the state forces know they'll get away with.

While violence against women makes waves elsewhere, there are villages like Dardpora in Kashmir where regular sexual crimes against women by the army do not receive any media attention at all. Even in Srinagar, the capital city, Indian forces (including the CRPF) do not fail to pass indecent remarks at women whenever they happen to pass them by. I’ve experienced this indecent behavior countless times, even as a little girl. All this despite the fact that I have friends all over the media. I can’t even imagine what goes on in our villages.


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