Views from Srinagar
THE default mode of any news channel ‘debating’ Kashmir from their New Delhi and Mumbai studios: invite a few ex-army generals, one Kashmiri Pandit, one legislator or a party spokesperson, and throw in a token one or two odd panelists chosen from Kashmir. The ex-generals speak on expected lines, more or less talking about how military can do no wrong in Kashmir (For example, Major Gogoi protected that poor man by tying him in front of the army jeep!). Military should not be questioned, they argue, and instead be further strengthened and empowered to control the situation in Kashmir. This, according to them, will bring ‘peace’ in the valley.
The carefully chosen Kashmiri Pandit panelists invited on these debates make no bones about which side they’re on. More often than not, the anchor pushes the state narrative, giving more time on air to those who represent it, without questioning them, even at times encouraging them to instead take on the Kashmiri panelists.
Instead of impartially conducting the debate, the anchor remains on the right side of the state, amplifying the argument of power. The representatives of what the people on ground believe or speak about are either ridiculed or shouted down for the few minutes they’re allowed to speak. Their viewpoint is either dismissed or insufficiently heard in the din.
So what do these debates –and the participation of Kashmiri panelists in them – achieve even if they genuinely want to put across their arguments? Can these militarized debates help find takers for the Kashmiri viewpoint which is heard, understood, and not endlessly questioned, ridiculed or dismissed? Or do these debates end up inciting more hatred and creating more hostility towards Kashmir and Kashmiris?
At the end of these raging Kashmir debates, the panelists from outside Kashmir stick to their own arguments and prejudices, backing the state actions even when it translates into death of Kashmiris on the ground which they are far removed from.
The audience of these channels remains as misinformed or uninformed as it was before these debates began. Their stereotypical ideas of Kashmir remain intact (It’s all jehadi atankwad! Major Gogoi is our hero!), unchallenged by informed, rational discussions and unbiased programs.
Some prime time Kashmir debates on certain popular news channels quickly transform into a slugfest of abuses and threats often directed towards the Kashmiri panelists. A mini spectacle of mob lynching is unleashed on air!
As the debates progress, the panelists from Kashmir are talked down, ridiculed, made uncomfortable, no less by the anchor, their viewpoints interrupted and questioned in turns by the anchor and his fellow panelists. This elicits angry outbursts and counter shouts even from a few otherwise calm Kashmiri panelists who expect to be heard without interruptions. This is followed by personal attacks, accusations, jibes and shouts from all sides.
The debate thus drowns in the ensuing noise from which nothing comes out. What was initially supposed to be a debate to help understand the issues is reduced to an empty shouting match. The debate hour is wasted like hundreds of such debate hours in the past on several other news channels.
The TRP driven corporate media thrives on such noise, much tamasha. The channels outdo each other in competing over which Kashmir debate creates more fireworks, heated exchanges, personal attacks, which can later go viral on social media and generate maximum hits, capture maximum eye balls. Without realising the damage it does to the people on the ground, these frenzied Kashmir debates are presented as more of entertainment commodities to be consumed. Most of the Hindi news channels are in a different league altogether when it comes to discussing or debating Kashmir. Their ability to come up with dramatic anti-Kashmir propaganda with background musical scores, and misinformation packaged as news, is unique and quite unparalleled.
Consider how a Kashmir debate was framed on one popular ‘news’ channel, where it was hastaged and flashed on the screens as, for example, ‘#KashmirAzadiLie’ and, more recently, on the issue of Article 35A, #KashmirForAll.” The conclusion here is already clearly conveyed on the screens before the debate begins, with the Kashmiri panelists in attendance.
No matter how passionately you speak or argue your viewpoint on the panel, this is what we are still going to believe in and propagate for our audience: ‘Kashmir Azadi is a lie’; ‘Kashmir is for all Indians’.
In a recent, one hour Sunday Kashmir debate again hashtaged “KashmirAzadiLie”, the anchor addressed the Kashmiri panelists who were on this occasion invited in person to his studio: “Let me tell it to you straight today. You know what you are? You people are simply fraud…you are fake Kashmiris…you are confused Kashmiris… Azadi is a lie…It’s all about money.” Interestingly, before this unflattering introduction, a Kashmiri panelist thanked the anchor for inviting him on his show.
Over the years most of these news channels have presented a singular idea of Kashmir for their audience: A land full of terrorists, stone pelters, and Jihadis. Such images, when consistently beamed into the living rooms of people outside Kashmir over many years, only generates more hatred towards Kashmiris, both living in Kashmir and those working or studying outside Kashmir. This contributes to at times putting their lives at risk. Far from initiating a rational debate on Kashmir, or correctly informing their audience about the ground realities, which can go against their stereotypical idea of Kashmir, these channels end up inciting more hatred against the already besieged and brutalised people of Kashmir.
At the end of these prime time debates and discussions, if you’re an average Indian viewer watching these channels in Delhi or any other state, you’re more likely to be as misinformed or uninformed about Kashmir as before. A Kashmiri viewer following these debates is more likely to curse the channel, the anchors and the blood thirsty defence analysts and ex army generals before switching over to some other news channels which repeat, more or less, the same predictable debates, the same noise, the same anti-Kashmir rhetoric.
What’s the way out of this vicious, endless cycle of media driven hatred and propaganda consistently directed towards Kashmir and Kashmiris? One option, which is in your control, is to reach out to the remote control and switch off these channels. It’ll make you feel a lot better. And less angry.