One Sided Coverage of Kashmir Affairs Depicts Moral Bankruptcy of Indian Media

Sharjeel Imam for BeyondHeadlines

The recent aggravation of tension between governments of India and Pakistan and subsequent combat engagements by the respective air forces has led to an alarming situation, especially as these two nations possess nuclear weapons, and have large conventional forces. The intensification of tensions started with Indian government’s allegations against Pakistan for its alleged indirect involvement in a suicide attack, in disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where more than 40 Indian CRPF personnel were killed. 

As the incident was reported, an overwhelming section of Indian media missed no time in calling for aggression against Pakistan. And this attitude is not new. The role played by our media, and especially the vernacular press, under such difficult circumstances has never been impartial or judicious. When it comes to reporting the political events in and around Kashmir, Indian media have repeatedly proved their collective intellectual and moral bankruptcy. And in the context of the massive suicide attack that took place after two decades in Kashmir, it took no time for mainstream media to display their features in full intensity. Not only do the media uncritically repeat what the government is claiming, but they also do the extra work of justifying whatever has been claimed, and some wise anchors and analysts go to the extent of suggesting future course of military action. Sycophancy, complacenc and complete surrender before the government are primary hallmarks of most Indian media.

Kashmiri Blood

The most important feature of our media vis a vis Kashmir has been its complete silence about the normalisation of violence and almost daily loss of civilian lives over the last few years. Even if we believe that the narratives about the origins of conflict belong to the historians’ domain, the media should at least reflect the current situation honestly. However, the events in Kashmir hit the headlines only if the number of dead civilians is large enough to garner attention, or if army personnel have been killed in an attack.  This is the defining feature of media’s approach towards this conflict and predates the post-liberalisation world of multiple news channels. 

This denial of a problem is perhaps best manifested in the maps which show the whole territory of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir as Indian, and even today it has been criminalized to print a map depicting otherwise. Children across India invariably grow with the wrong assumption that this whole region was once Indian territory.  In the days when Doordarshan had a monopoly over news broadcast, a similar approach towards violence in Kashmir was taken, and people had to turn to PTV to check if any alternate narratives existed. The situation is no different today, despite Indian masses having access to hundreds of channels in dozens of languages. The daily victimisation of Kashmiris hardly finds any mention in these 24 hours networks, neither does the response from Kashmiris, in the form of protests, rallies etc are covered properly. For instance, it has hardly been reported properly that 2018 has been the deadliest year in the last decade.

And even if there is news of civilian deaths in so-called encounter operations, it is often brushed aside as collateral damage in the popular Indian perception. Some ultra-nationalists would go to the extent of justifying the murder of these civilians as they support ‘jihadi terrorists’ and hence deserve punishments. But the same people could be seen invoking principles of International Humanitarian law when the Indian Air Force Wing Commander was captured by Pakistan. How Indians want their state to treat people is very different from how they want another state to treat theirs, be it the case of Abhinandan or Kulbhushan Yadav.

Although Indian media chooses to largely blackout on the issue of Kashmir, Kashmiris have taken it upon themselves to disseminate information on the violence met out to them using social media. However, the Indian state uses its powers even to the extent of shutting down the internet to ensure that the flow of information on violence is restricted. Jammu and Kashmir saw the highest number of internet shutdowns in recent past.  


‘Islamic Terrorism’

The consequence of one-sided media coverage is that the term ‘terrorism’ can then be indiscriminately applied to all and any form of resistance in Kashmir. As the violence perpetrated against the population is never the subject matter of news, any response from Kashmiris is seen as completely unjustified and inspired by Islamic radicals supported by Pakistan. If it happens to be a suicide attack, then the universal assumption is that it was the deed of most fanatic of all Muslim terrorists. The reasoning is fundamentally flawed, and who would know it better than Indians who faced suicide attacks from non-religious LTTE even before any ‘Islamic’ suicide attacks had taken place. In the absence of any real news about the brutalisation of Kashmiri people, and with the neo-conservative definition of terrorism becoming universal, it is easy to convince the masses that all of this is a product of a radical religious mentality, and nothing else. 

This narrative of ‘Islamic Terrorism’ has been used successfully across the globe by many nation states to denigrate legitimate resistance. However, in India, this understanding has a special resonance because of the recent history of the subcontinent. Indian nationalists firmly believe that Pakistan was founded because of Muslim separatist attitude and their inability and unwillingness to live with the Hindus. Muslims were also mistrusted and labelled as ‘Pakistani agents’ in this society. 

It is in this context that the neocon definition of terrorism enters in the post 9/11 media landscape of Indian society. The very next year, the attack on parliament happened and the term ‘terrorism’ has been used ever since to describe Muslim individuals or groups resisting Indian rule in Kashmir and elsewhere. Student organisations such as SIMI were declared ‘terrorist’ and banned by the government. The older term ugrwaadi [insurgent] was permanently replaced by aatankwaadi [terrorist]. Interestingly, the same word is rarely used for insurgents in central India or northeast to the same extent. 

Given this one-sided coverage of Kashmir affairs, and the suitable context for the reception of neo-conservative definition of ‘Islamic terrorism’, it is not surprising that the Indian media rarely introspects and asks itself and its viewers if it is possible that something other than ‘fanatic religious beliefs’ have driven these individuals to become a human bomb, and why are the youth of Kashmir, or for that matter youth of Sri Lankan Tamil areas,  ready to lay their lives in order to resist the Indian forces. The fact that Muslims did bulk of the fighting against ISIS, or that it is the Muslims who are the real victims of these seemingly endless conflicts, seldom get any attention. 

Pakistan and Terrorism

From here we come to the third important issue in Indian media regarding the Kashmir conflict, and that is the coverage Pakistan receives. It is known to all that Pakistan has been one of the biggest victims of terrorism and the chain of violence engendered by the Soviet and then American attack on Afghanistan. Over the last ten years, Pakistan has lost more than 70,000 civilians and army personnel in such attacks. The amount of people and capital lost in such attacks is unimaginable to Indians who have been targeted with much lesser frequency, but the Indian media has chosen to not discuss these facts.  In what seems to be a reflexive reaction, the Indian state as well as the media, after the Pulwama attack, accused the Pakistani government of harbouring ‘terrorists’ and providing them with space and ammunition. The news anchors who are busy in war mongering would not stop to deal with the way Pakistani army has been struggling to bring under control those autonomous areas where the American invasion has led to amassing of Afghan fighters, whether fighting for freedom from America or the establishment of an Islamic state. The same obsolete trope of Pakistan being a rogue state and a supporter of terrorism is universally repeated on all channels with no attempt to represent the reality on the ground. A statement from China asking both countries to cooperate becomes ‘an ultimatum to Pakistan’. Pakistan has apparently been ‘isolated’ at the international stage, and India’s peaceful image has been enhanced after the recent adventures. Indian media will not discuss the OIC’s recent resolution on Kashmir conflict but will do chest beating over an invitation to India to be part of OIC summit. 


The coverage of recent escalation by the Indian media can be understood in this context. It started with war mongering and total abandonment of journalistic ethics by a section of Indian newspersons and reporters. ‘Pakistan caused this attack’, ‘We want revenge’, etc were the catch lines. Pakistani government asked for evidence, but that was brushed aside. We do not need any analysis of why a young Kashmiri was forced to become a human bomb. It does not need analysis of why Muslims can become suicidal on slightest provocation. Then followed the air force operation on the mysterious camp of Jaish e Mohammad, where it was claimed that many militants have been killed. Instead of asking for the proof from the government, a section of the media conjured up a figure of 300 which started making rounds within a few hours. In this world of hand-held cameras, there is still no credible evidence so far, and we are waiting for the relevant satellite images to provide further details. At least the people learnt a new term ‘payload’ because of this imitative discourse practised by the Indian media. The next day, when Pakistan Air Force responded and captured an Indian pilot, a section of Indian media went on another round of war mongering. After Imran Khan announced that Pakistan wants de-escalation and that the pilot would be released in a day as per rules, many on this side of the border announced it as Pakistan’s inability to fight with India, many quoting their problematic economy as the main bottleneck. And hence, the fight was won by India, the Pulwama attack was avenged by a bombing on a mysterious target in Pakistan, and in the process, we lost a fighter jet and a pilot who Pakistan returned and yet Indians think Pakistan is afraid of India. A misadventure which could have sparked a war is being spun as a victory by the Indian media, and keywords such as ‘Abhinandan’, ‘Pulwama’, ‘Balakot’ etc are being auctioned in Bollywood. And going by the trend, there is no hope for sanity in the near future as well. 

(Sharjeel Imam is a Computer Science graduate from IIT Bombay and is currently pursuing his PhD in Modern History from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He is working on Late Colonial Muslim politics in South Asia.)


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