Silence of the media against censorship in Kashmir is deafening

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, July 17:  The tragedy about the media in Hindustan is that the TV channels spitting venom against Kashmiris in their daily evening circus seem to be dictated by their ‘nationalist duty’ to oppose struggles  for regional aspirations. One such ‘ultra-nationalist’ anchor was heard asking Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik, “Aap Khaate bhi Bharat Ka hain, Saans bhi iski hawa mein lete hain lekin…”. This is extreme.

Government has always this thinking that media censorship is one of the best instruments to check unrest from spreading. But then in Kashmir, entire state has been under curfew since the gunning down of young Burhan Wani, the ‘prized terrorist’ for security forces but icon for the people in the valley. These are the two extremes and this is the Kashmir reality, rather has been the reality for years.

Kashmir was part of the Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh who died in 1839  and what followed was anarchy. The British India government took advantage of the situation. The Sikhs lost in the first Anglo-Sikh war in 1845-46. This was followed by Treaty of Lahore signed on March 9, 1846 that details the terms of surrender of the Sikh Durbar. Jammu was ruled by Raja Gulab Singh from Dogra dynasty. The Lahore Durbar was to pay certain amount to the British but the treasury was bankrupt. Dogras were already in the service of Lahore Durbar occupying important offices during Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Raja Gulab Singh stepped in to pay Rs. 7,500,000  in return for Muslim majority Kashmir Valley and some other Sikh territories. This was done under Second Treaty of Amritsar signed between British East India Company and Maharaja Gulab Singh on March 16, 1846. He accepted overall British sovereignty.  Kashmir became part of the Dogra territory.

The Kashmiris started protesting against the oppressive Dogra rule. The first organized movement was Quit Kashmir movement led by Sheikh Abdullah. This movement turned into struggle for Azad Kashmir. The Azadi slogan is from the pre-partition era. They lived in abject poverty. Kashmiri Muslims were discriminated against even in recruitment for government jobs and this is part of history for anyone to read.

Street protests in the valley started in the third decade of the last century. The first major incident was the killing of 21 protesters by the police on 13 July 1931 before the central jail of Srinagar.  This is wrong perception fed to the people in the rest of the country that the ‘Kashmir problem’ is rooted in the partition of the country in 1947 and it is Pakistan that is responsible for it. The idea of Pakistan had not even born in 1931. The Muslim League resolution that is now known as the Pakistan resolution was adopted in 1940 in Lahore. The Sikhs were the first to oppose Pakistan demand. This Sikh opposition was articulated by the statutory Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee that passed Sikh state resolution at its general house meeting. Perhaps it was considered to be a patriotic demand at that time as it was in opposition to the Pakistan demand.

This is not to deny the role of Pakistan in the struggle by the Kashmiris in the post-partition period. However, it is the origin of this struggle that is more important as it might help in clearing certain min-conceptions.

Media in Chandigarh staged a protest march a few weeks back and submitted a memorandum to Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki against the decision of the monopolised cable network in Punjab to drop certain Zee channels. It  essentially was a commercial dispute that was sorted out subsequently. The management finally settled with Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The journalists who had come out on the roads on this issue were virtually taken for a ride by the Zee management.

Now there is no protest when censorship has been imposed in the entire neighbouring state, not even a statement.

The media organisations should have opposed censorship at least as a first step towards strategic reconciliation with the Kashmiri people, if nothing else. However, the problem is that certain Delhi based TV channels have taken upon them to malign every struggle as anti-national. The target these days are the Kashmiris.

Kashmir is one region in a democratic set up that perhaps the only region with such highest concentration of security forces in the world. Punjab experienced the worst humiliation during army deployment after Operation Bluestar, the army attack on the Golden Temple complex in June, 1984. The army launched Operation Woodrose under which entire village, including old men and women, particularly in the border districts, would be made to stand in the open throughout the day to teach them a lesson. Punjab was under censorship.

Censorship is anti-thesis to democracy. This is the age of information. Suppression leads to misinformation and that is more dangerous. In Punjab, censorship during Operation Bluestar proved to be counter-productive. It was for this reason that Operation Blackthunder, yet another operation by the security forces in the Golden temple complex in 1988, was in full view of the media. Every bullet fired was being reported. It was a neat operation.


Jagtar Singh


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