Kashmir: Crush Me No More...
EDITORIAL. John Dayal. III. VIII. X
by Dr. John Dayal
I do not know if many people know that there used to be a department in the Government of India coordinating the Ministry of Home Affairs, External Affairs, Informational and Broadcasting and, of course, All India Radio and Doordarshan geared to the twin but not identical purpose of what the world would see of the Kashmir Valley, and what the people of the Valley would see of themselves, even if only through the eyes of the powers that be in New Delhi. Many an itinerant film-maker made his, or her, fortune producing programmes for this cabal, some of them graduating to ownership of satellite channels.
Mani Shankar Ayer, famously used to say when he
was the official spokesmen of the Ministry of
External Affairs decades ago, Spokesman and
Government Media are not sources of information,
they are instruments of foreign policy – and
arguably instruments of domestic policy too. This
surely continues to be the case even after the
privatisation of information and broadcasting and
the blossoming of 500 Television channels
up-linked from the homeland.
I say this as I read the newspapers, and surf the TV channels, Indian, Pakistani and third-party such and CNN and BBC, so to say, as the valley of Kashmir, or at least the part that remains in India, passes through what I fear is the most tragic and critical phase of its existence since the Accession sixty-two years ago. I have a soft corner for the Kashmir valley. I spent the first few years of my life in the Valley at the turn of the 1940s and early 1950s, and boy and man, have followed the developments closely from the incarceration of Sheikh Abdullah and the three wars with Pakistan – after the Qabaili invasion, which I was too young to be bothered about – all through the many government, Congress, National Conference and various configurations through Dr Faroukh Abdullah and ending with his son. Each phase had its nadir, till the crisis dipped further towards cataclysm.
But there was always a lingering hope that it would turn out safe and peaceful, for there were very few alien elements stoking the fire, directly, indirectly or even unintentionally. Even the tragic exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits, engineering according to many by the government in New Delhi and its agent in Srinagar, low point as it was, did not seem irretrievable. It goes to the sanity of the nation at large that even the Exodus, and I use the capital letter in full consciousness, did not precipitate the sort of communal explosion which would have been easy in a nation that had seen the 1992 Babri masjid aftermath and the ranting of the Sangh Parivar.
It is not the Sangh Parivar’s ranting or its known ability to pervert the holy Yatra into a communal flashpoint that is the danger. The danger comes from the feedback syndrome of the new media, specially the TV channels. In fact, the buck for aggravating the situation does indeed stop with them, though not in the manner their anchors seem to presume in their inflated egos and pay-packets. With censorship always a reality in interpersonal communications through telephones, mobiles and Internet, and a wide chasm of interpretation of factors and fiction between local newspapers of the valley and those published from Jammu, Chandigarh or New Delhi, the lack of credibility seems offset only by the visuals.
And the visuals of demonstrations, coffin of martyred soldiers, women in the throes of mourning for their dead, makes a volatile mixture. The Editor of the Milli Gazette, New Delhi Zafarul Islam Khan, fears the valley may be on the verge of an Intifada, which if New Delhi does not act, may invite foreign military intervention.
Sangh Parivar, sees an opportunity, and has pout
the government on an ultimatum that whatever
happens in the valley must not jeopardise the
Pilgrimage to the Ice Lingam in the holy cave of
Amarnath, now under progress, almost threatening
national repercussions. The comatose responses
from New Delhi, the fishing expeditions by the BJP
and the unconcern by every other political
force - even the Left parties seem not
to be too bothered, while the Tamil parties, the
Telugu parties, the Yadavs and Mayawatized ones
possibly find Kashmir much too far away to prick
their political sensitivity – is only adding
to the crisis.
Sanity must return soon. It will not do for security forces to be firing at, and killing, not terrorists and Pakistani combatant infiltrators, but civilian protestors. Many in India and in the non resident Indian population in the UK and the US may not want to acknowledge it, but there has been all too much civilian no-combatant blood shed in the Valley over the decades. Not just the Pandits, the poor Muslims, among them women and children, have not just been displaced in their tens of thousands, but brutally killed in fake encounters by the local police, in firing by army soldiers and security forces of the Central Reserve Police, by indigenous anti-New Delhi militants, and by invading terrorists.
them really, there seems to be no friend. It is
not spurring that they can be roused to protest
every death, every rape, and every injury,
shouting slogans before TV cameras and pelting
stones at the command of local political vested
interests. Cameramen are not unknown to
occasionally ask crowds to kindly shout a few
hostile slogans, or throw a stone or two. But for
them, too, it is safety first. We all vividly
remember seeing embedded BBC and CNN journalists
filming from the same gun porthole that their
friendly soldier was shooting from, all for the
sake of live TV. So it is either the crowd playing
to the camera with slogans, or the camera filming
stone-lobbers from the safety of the CRPF
van’s cover. And we are not even talking of
the headlines in journals such as Panchjanya and
Organiser, and their Web equivalents.
Parliament must find time between its impasses on food prices and Narendra Modi’s shenanigans to act, and act fast for a change. It is no one’s case that this is going to be easy. It is a difficult task; more complex than any political hot potato we have seen in years. But surely it is not beyond redemption. Issues of humanity and human rights must be recognised in all that fire and brimstone. The United progressive Alliance II government in New Delhi, which is a partner in the Srinagar regime too, must be seen to encourage a return to peace, instead of hoping that the fire will die out of its own and perhaps leave in its ashes something that ruling parties can retrieve to continue in power. Even the Indian media can shed its pomposity and its Fox TV patriotism and, for once, come on the side of peace.