Thursday, 6 November 2014

Jammu Kashmir and our armed forces

Journalism lessons from an "Aam Aadmi" in Uniform 

Vivek Sinha
It was a cold and foggy winter night of January and he stood guard at the barricades near India’s Parliament in Delhi. His mandate was clear and simple: Provide security to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who was sitting on a dharna demanding dismissal of a few personnel in the Delhi Police. 

Yes, he was one of the men in uniform and yet was unmindful of all kinds of slogan mongering by the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) men that bordered verbal abuse on the police personnel. A constable in the SSB (Sashastra Sema Bal), he stood his ground, bereft of the happenings in his immediate vicinity and braving the biting cold of Delhi along with the vitriolic barbs by AAP men.

Just a few days back he had returned from Jammu Kashmir and was scheduled to be on his way back to his home town in West Bengal when this sudden dharna by the incumbent Delhi Chief Minister made him report for duty.

“How come you are interested in knowing my side of the story?  See all media cameras are focused towards the men on dharna,” the constable said when I quizzed him about his personal views about the ongoing protests by incumbent state government of Delhi. 

The sarcasm in his voice was striking.

“Well, I wish to understand issues in its totality…I wish to know the other side of the story as well…tell me about the ground realities in Jammu Kashmir as well..,” I said, undeterred by his sarcasm and boasting about myself as to how I was a “bit different” from other journalists.

“How many times have you chased a news story beyond the confines and comforts of Delhi?” the constable interrupted my intellectual babble.

I was stunned by this plain speak.

Hitherto, it has been the preserve of Editors who put up this question in newsroom meetings to shake Reporters out of their comfort zones.

But here, five minutes into the conversation and I was rendered speechless by a constable---an Aam Aadmi in uniform.  

However, this discussion was not to win a debate, rather to understand the psyche and difficulties faced by our security forces and police personnel during their line of duty while defending our country.

“You journalists make an issue out of non-issues …and this whole process eclipses the real concerns of our country…,” the constable went on.

“And what are those concerns?”  I asked interrupting him.

“A few months back when I was posted near the holy cave of Amarnath in Jammu Kashmir, there was a planned terrorist strike at our post,” the constable said, “…after a heavy exchange of gunfire we killed seven terrorists.”

“And next morning the talking point in media was a demonstration in Kashmir Valley that demanded removal of AFPSA--Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Experts and senior Journalists debated if it was the right time to repeal this Act… Not even a single word was said about the deadly encounter or how this terrorist attack was aimed at disturbing the fragile peace in Jammu Kashmir...," the constable went on.  

By this time a small crowd of police and security personnel had gathered around us who were listening intently to our discussion.

“The media has presented a grossly distorted picture of Jammu Kashmir,” said another constable of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) joining our discussion. He further explained that security people fire only when it’s the last resort, “… despite this we have been painted as aggressors who are in Jammu Kashmir only to kill and plunder.”

Another senior officer explained that a lot of locals across Jammu Kashmir support and respect the security forces. “It is just a handful of elites from the Kashmir valley who have hijacked the entire discourse about the state of Jammu Kashmir. Even the mainstream media plays into their hands, which is really unfortunate.”

I could not agree more. Some research, later on, about mainstream media’s style of coverage of  Jammu Kashmir threw some startling facts and presented a picture of vicious cycle of propagation of falsehoods. 

Delhi-based Journalists who often set the national agenda rarely visit Jammu Kashmir to get a first hand information about the ground realities and most often rely only on local stringers (rookie reporters hired on an ad-hoc basis by media organizations) to get “news” about the state.

Most often, these local stringers who are based in Srinagar and have dubious credentials pass biased and prejudiced opinions of the separatists as “news feeds”. The newspaper and news channels pick up these “prejudiced news reports” which they pass on as the “reality of Jammu Kashmir”.

Yet again, these "news reports" get picked up by other local news channels and newspapers in other parts of the country and broadcasted and published further. In effect, this ensures a distorted viewpoint about Jammu Kashmir being propagated across the country. A viewpoint that suits and benefits the Separatists from Kashmir Valley. 

Another interesting trend was the extreme obsession of mainstream media with events only in the Kashmir Valley, thereby ignoring the popular public sentiment across Jammu and Leh regions.

But then how does all this affect the morale of security forces?

“We Can, We Will and We Are fighting the terrorists across Jammu Kashmir. Our security forces are fully capable of defeating all anti-national forces but how do we fight the perception battle that is constantly being tarnished by certain sections of the media,” the officer questioned me. “How do I motivate my soldiers to fight anti-national elements and risk their lives when question marks are constantly raised over the misuse of AFPSA and on our motives,” the officer continued. He added that security forces open fire only when it is the last option and when they are at the receiving end of constant firing from terrorists. 

“We too are the Aam Aadmi of India, we too have a family, yet we risk our lives to keep the country secure. And what do we expect in return? A simple recognition of our work will go miles in boosting our morale,” the constable said looking 

World over security forces receive adulation from their countrymen for their sacrifice, yet unfortunately in India we have purposefully chosen to undermine our own security force, oblivious of the perilous ramifications it can have for our country.

Uninformed remarks on Jammu Kashmir by Prashant Bhushan----- AAP's "intellectual" may fail to dent the spirit of our security forces but it certainly helps feed into the vicious cycle of Separatists propaganda about the state.     

I looked at my wrist watch that said it was 1:30 AM and tightened the woolen muffler around my neck to beat the intense cold that was getting severe every minute. 


“Please excuse us, we need to get back to our duty now,” the constable said smiling.

“Thank you for your time and thanks for making me remind of my duty,” I said shaking hands with them.

Before I could take leave I promised the SSB personnel, and importantly to myself, that very soon I will go to Jammu Kashmir to take stock of the ground realities and apprise the country about the real picture in Jammu Kashmir.

“Yes, this will be real Journalism,” I told myself as I headed home.

(First written and published in January 2014 during the infamous protests of Shri Arvind Kejriwal--the then Chief Minister of Delhi) 

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