Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sajjad Haider - What the nation really should want to know about Kashmir (but is afraid to ask)

The numbers tell the story. At least 43 civilians are dead, 1,948 suffered injuries – 1,744 were discharged, 204 continued to be treated – in 566 incidents of violence reported from Kashmir valley since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani on July 8, as per official numbers given by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh during a debate in Rajya Sabha on July 18. Unofficial figures are even higher. A large number of those dead and injured are in the age-group of 15-25.

ABVP under fire as a Sikh student is beaten up after being mistaken for a Kashmiri in Hyderabad

The number of those who have been blinded or have partly lost their vision in clashes between security forces and protestors is yet to be fully ascertained, but is estimated to be close to 100. Life remained paralysed for the 11th day on July 19, with curfew still in force and people forced to stay indoors, virtually under house arrest, with children, elderly and sick remaining the most vulnerable.

Shoot at sight orders have been in place, work places shut, schools closed and labourers –shikara-walas, taxi drivers, hawkers, roadside vendors – remained without their daily wages for the 11th consecutive day, forcing many to forego their daily meals. On Friday, a student in Bangalore called in distress, pleading for help as he had run out of money and could not contact home. But, back home, all banks are closed – including ATMs.

The government did announce a slew of measures, including a helpline for medical emergencies. But then, all mobile phone services, barring state owned BSNL, have remained suspended. Net result: you cannot communicate. Mobile internet had already been blocked, including on the state owned BSNL. And from Saturday, July 16, onwards, local newspapers too have been ordered shut. It is like putting a lid on a pressure cooker. Besides, surely those in power know that absence of information, or the lack of it, leads to rumours and more conflict?

Let them eat cake
But wait, there is 24x7 television, they say. If there is no bread, why can't they eat cake? Besides, these TV channels speak a different language. Their Television Rating Points, or TRPs as they are called, come not from seven million caged people but from a billion plus thriving nation of patriots who hate any thing “anti-national”.

It would seem, in their reading, as if here in Kashmir valley all you have is a people gone crazy. They vent their anger at anything symbolising the Indian State. And increasingly these misguided – rather, guided from across the border – people break the law by violating the stifling curfew and hurling stones at these symbols of the state.

These symbols include poor men from the Central Reserve Police Forces, most of them involuntarily drawn into the vortex of a complex political mess that is Kashmir. There are also cases – yes, 100 odd cases, as per official figures – of young men who have taken to arms, just like that 22-year-old Burhan Wani, whose killing on July 8 was the trigger for the ongoing unrest. So, obviously, “the nation needs to be told” the reality of the people gone crazy. The people who do not want to be part of an emerging global power must – most certainly – be out of their minds.

Question time
But the nation also asks some questions sometimes. Questions like: Why do these people hate us even after 69 years of largesse and special status? But the answer is predictable: Oh, that? This is the job of the rogue state next-door, jealous of India’s rise. Well, they have been hell bent on disturbing our peace ever since they came into being. 

Next question: What have we been doing to undo their mischief?

Answer: Make Kashmiris behave. Yes, behave. Impose extended curfews to stop them from falling in the trap. Block free flow of information as that may include propaganda as well. 

And, of course, allow access to a few select channels operated from Delhi so that the people are fed the “right information”. And don’t panelists on these channels – mostly non-Kashmiris, of course – talk endlessly and often argue on the merits and demerits of giving free choices to Kashmiris? After all, Kashmir is not like any other Indian state. it is a “sensitive” state.

As one panelist put it succinctly. “You should have dumped the body of that 22-year-old “terrorist” anywhere, instead of giving it back to his family.” He meant this would have robbed those two lakh “misguided” people a chance to attend the funeral they all turned out for Or, to put it simply, rob them of an outlet to vent their anger and frustration.

In the course of debates, no one asked this simple question: Why have so many people come out to grieve for Burhan? What did he do to achieve that status?

Rights and wrongs
The right course of course also includes blocking the “wrong” information.
Thus the range of TV channels Kashmiris are allowed to watch these days are representative of a country of diversity, the nation of India. All sorts of choices are available including Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Hindi, English, Urdu.

But not Kashmiri.

Kashmir, perhaps, is the only place left in the 21st century world which does not have a satellite channel of its own. I have to struggle hard to brief my inquisitive elderly mother of the developments as she does not understand these languages. And, of course, there is no question of a TV channel dedicated to Kashmir where you have Kashmiri panelists discussing Kashmir for Kashmiris.

Obviously, the hapless population is forced to watch channels they are offered and watch helplessly as it is the prerogative of the channel editors to decide whom to include in the discussions, if at all there are any, on Kashmir.

After all, Kashmir does not fetch many TRPs, and as one producer told me last year there is not much Bollywood thing happening in Kashmir either these days. And when Kashmir indeed becomes news, it is always bad news and the nation does not want to hear that anymore.

People in the corridors of power in Delhi do not want to hear that either. There are, after all, enough CRPF and other armed forces personnel dumped in Kashmir to take care of the restless population. And they have been doing their job the way they know. After all they are not trained in the school of politics.

I was asked by a senior western diplomat during a recent chat about my take on what could be z solution for the Kashmir dispute. I said let Delhi treat Kashmir at par with other states, half of the problem will be over. Rest they can take care later. But, alas, they don’t understand Kashmiri.
Sajjad Haider is Editor-in-Chief of Kashmir Observer. 
He can be reached at sajjad.ko@gmail.com

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