On May 8, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti lectured the media about showing Kashmiris in poor light or branding them all as stone pelters. A day before, her government sought action against 34 TV channels beamed from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Mufti’s comments about a section of the media thriving on the negative portrayal of Kashmiri youth and displaying an inherent bias against Kashmir may not be entirely misplaced. Many TV channels do paint Kashmiris as ‘anti-nationals’, provoked and paid by terror groups. They refuse to accommodate the many shades of the Kashmir conflict. And yet her sweeping remarks for all of the national media were surely an example of superficial, glib commentary.
In fact, Mehbooba was trivialising the Kashmir situation by describing the present cycle of violence merely as another up-and-down the Valley has seen since 1947. She insisted that this was reversible. But this denial of ground realities is a complete mismatch from the disorder her own government today suffers from.
If the situation is indeed not as distressing as Mehbooba tries to argue, what explains the excessive militarisation of civilian space in the Valley today and the brutalisation of the masses at the hands of security and police personnel? What explains her government’s inability to reach out to the people, particularly youth?
Today, there is a complete disconnect between angry and frustrated youth and politicians who are unable to visit their own constituencies. This disconnect existed even in the early 1990s, but the present level of anguish and frustration that brings youth, armed only with a stone and no sense of fear, to grapple with armed forces on the streets is far more acute than when youth first picked up guns to fight the Indian state.
Quite often, journalists from the so-called “Indian mainland,” particularly news channel anchors accentuate the sense of humiliation that feeds into the existing alienation.
But the fact remains that the present crisis is not a making of these news anchors, however irresponsible their journalism. Such hallucinations that allow the government the luxury of finding convenient guinea pigs to blame for the Kashmir mess is no different from the official discourse of ‘miscreants’, ‘unemployment’, ‘drug addiction’ and terror funding, all of which are seen as the causes of youth unrest.
Missing the woods for the trees can neither salvage the government’s image, nor address the crisis.
Mehbooba’s fresh remarks follow a pattern. Last July, the state government banned local newspapers for 10 days, raided newspaper offices and took technical staffers of some publications into custody. Both internet and mobile phones were banned. Ironically, Mehbooba had earlier been strongly critical of her political adversary Omar Abdullah, during whose tenure similar methods of gagging voices and media were pretty much frequent.
Since last month, curbs have been placed on 3G connectivity and social media including facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp.
On Sunday, the state government cracked down on 34 channels, including not just religious and news channels but also a sports channel, two culinary channels and a music channel. The government said “they had the potential to encourage violence and disturb the law and order situation in Kashmir, and are not permitted for transmission.”
The state government’s misplaced paranoia, its knee-jerk reactions as well as ill-thought words have no power to turn the tide of the undifferentiated anger seen on the streets of Kashmir today.
That stems from the deliberate or otherwise political inability to address the politics associated with the decades-old political dispute, militarisation and excessive brutality. So, why shoot the messenger?