Kashmir but no Kashmir


Shahnaz Bashir offers an articulative analysis of everything Kashmir means post-Pulwama, cutting across whatever has been written and said so far after the attack in media.

The media in India put the 14 February suicide-bomb attack on a paramilitary bus in the Pulwama district of Kashmir into the same old terror frame: an act of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Indian authorities went on an arrest spree and, in two days, around two hundred activists of Jama’at-e-Islami (who India thinks are actually effective in mobilizing a boycott of elections in Kashmir) were arrested in night raids across Kashmir. As of now the organization stands banned.

All the news about the Pulwama attack aired or published in India hardly touched Kashmir as an issue but Kashmir as a place. The most intriguing feature was the show of an uncritical satisfaction and an absence of curiosity of news anchors and their panellists with regard to the political and historical context of the attack. They saw terror and Pakistan in it but not Kashmir. They repeatedly drilled only “Pulwama”—as some misplaced place from Kashmir—into the news viewer’s psyche as a spot where Pakistan was to be attributed like it was, let’s say, in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Soon after the Pulwama attack, many in Kashmir were worried about a mass reprimand but were soon relatively relieved to observe the anger shift almost entirely towards Pakistan.

The indifference towards Kashmir issue in India is an involuntary expression of a cultivated feeling that comes from a long-time practice of irrational neglect and absolute denial of something whose mention or thought makes one psycho-politically insecure. Indian media has cultivated Pakistan-bashing and denial of political rights to Kashmiris as a sacred yet blind belief system to which any sane argument or question should sound like blasphemy and any inquisitor has to be impetuously punished. The purpose has been absolutely clear: to avoid any inquisition that can lead to a discussion of Kashmir as a political issue. That about the same Kashmir that India itself took to United Nations in 1947 and acquired resolutions for resolving it as a political issue with Pakistan. It has been only a considerable section of international media that has kept bringing Kashmir up as an unresolved dispute to the centre of the current crisis.

Any loss of life logically demands mourning as the first reaction. The TV news reporters in India sought the relatives of the killed paramilitary men for sound bites of revenge and expressions of anger. However, the relatives uncertainly mentioned revenge but anger was missing in them. It is not about the human side of the loss of life but the media has been seeking to glean a moral endorsement from the relatives’ comments to generate war hysteria with a life-for-life cry. Studios of certain channels set up backgrounds that screamed “ten heads for one”. The minute-by-minute breathless TV news reporting, steeped in a lopsided commentary, seemed to suggest to the noblest viewer of the news that you are informed that you are angry [so react] … And now with the gesture of peace from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to India, the TV news media in Indian is finding it hard to sustain the furore that it worked so hard for all these last few anxious and worrisome days. One feels amused at one’s failing to imagine what more low the media of a vast country like India—that with its ever flaunting claims of democracy—will touch. Yet this rabble-rousing attitude of the news channels cannot be misread as a mere trivialization of its form and content. It’s all about the coming elections in India and the tone ought to be tuned accordingly.

The only response to the Indian pilot’s arrest and Pak PM’s peace gesture came more from the news channels than from the Indian polity. The response was generated through panel debates and agenda setting in news bulletins: “soldiers are supposed to be sacrificed in wars” and “Pakistan is under pressure to make the peace gesture”. One more teasing irony was the media’s invoking of Geneva conventions over the pilot’s arrest. Never ever have the media lipped the Geneva conventions about the human rights violations in Kashmir.

For the coming elections in India, Pakistan has to be evil and needs to be taught a lesson; and if Kashmir is something of an issue it’s again to be understood merely as a problem of “sponsored terror” from Pakistan, but not as a political dispute. When 76 Indian paramilitary persons were killed by Maoist rebels in April 2010, Indian state’s, and more importantly media’s, reaction lacked that intensity of awe and anger that was there for the Pulwama attack because there was no way to attribute it to Pakistan and, above all, there were no elections for which political claims could have been staked.

Pakistan, that India media needs to bash for its elections, can become a punching bag only when Kashmir exists as a political problem in the sub-continent, and yet, for India, in the current crisis, Kashmir itself doesn’t really exist in its political equation with Pakistan.

For all the great chances of winning the next election, BJP’s major advantage has come from Kashmir; and itself, Kashmir is nowhere to be seen as an issue in the current crisis but only as a place where Pakistan is to be targeted for animosity. The ostentatious air strikes, to symbolically rid India of the enemy, in turn, are part of an agenda for elections. Otherwise, for India, Kashmir is its “internal problem” that quietly needs mass arrests, scrapping of rights’ laws and seven hundred thousand soldiers to muffle its human voice.♦

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