Our correspondent locates the recent Pulwana incident in the larger narrative of decades of violence, and explores the infatuation of the Indian State with Kashmir, a situation which has only brought bloodshed and loss to both the natives and the army- men.

Last year I was a volunteer teacher in Kashmir for four months. In a rare moment of leisure, I once asked the eight- grade their view on the political situation of Kashmir. Interestingly, self-governance was a unanimous demand. Fascinated, I tried looking for a reason. One of them quipped, “You’re from India. You won’t understand.”

More recently, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) constable, part of the convoy which was attacked in Pulwama, related, “There are many who are angry. No one can carry so much explosive in a car without some local support.”

This statement, which came a day after the nation lost 49 of army men- due to a suicide-bombing by a young man when a suicide bomber named Adil Ahmad Dar, a 20-year-old from Kakapora village in Pulwama, and that too the school kid, carried within their nuanced confines strains of everything that makes Kashmir’s dilemma one of the most blood-soaked power conflicts of modern times. The accession has been a reality of the Indian Sstate which the natives could never come at peace with, and the hostility from both the parties hasve never been subtle.

Blame the Maharaja Hari Singh’s indecisiveness or the failed United Nations mediation, the two nations of Pakistan and India have ever since independence found Kashmir as a fitting bone of contention. The extensive militarisation which forms the prime concern of the various governments of both the nations have since always independence found justification and support in the narrative of Kashmir. Pakistan has been justifying it’s right over the region on the basis of the religious and ethnic similarities, whereas India found it’s right to rule in the Maharaja’s signed accession document from when while he was fleeing the violence in Srinagar post-independence. , Tthe substantial Kashmiri-Pandit population, and over the peculiar idea that Kashmir was the crown of the Indian mainland, (in a literal sense) – these are all reasons for India’s claim over the land. Having hence divided the state purely on the ideas of relentless exploitation and oppression, and reducing the state to a shareable bounty, with India taking 43 % of the total landmass, Pakistan- the other 37 %, 7% and 20 % going to China, Kashmir has been reduced to graveyards and warzones, and the average Kashmiri, to the everyday victim.
The recent incident is not a new one in its nature. Jaish-e-Mohammed had previously engineered a similar attack on Badami Bagh Cantonment in 2000. The battle-cries from our politicians on live television that we hear today, were a reality back then too.  

Henceforth, one should be reminded here of the fact that whatever narrative the Hindu mainland tells itself, the majority of Kashmir does not want to be part of the Indian State.  Over the years, Kashmir has never let its hostility remain concealed. In one of the most fitting examples of violence begetting violence, the killing of soldiers and the later retaliation and killing of the common people and alleged militants, working both ways, has been a general history. For every Pulwama incident is the Sopore incident, where the men in uniform killed almost 55 people. Similarly, for every encounter of the young Kashmiri ultra-nationalists like Burhan Wani, is the Operation All Out which led to death tolls in hundreds.

The recent incident is not a new one in its nature. Jaish-e-Mohammed had previously engineered a similar attack on Badami Bagh Cantonment in 2000. The battle cries from our politicians on live television that we hear today, was a reality back then too.

So this time, let us hope that the diplomats and the politicians of the two nations rise over the petty politics, understand the value of human lives on both sides of the border, in the war-torn Kashmir which becomes the common victim, and sit together and put an end to this never-ending sequence of violence. Giving Kashmir the right to self-determination, as envisaged twelve years ago in Satindar Lambah- Tariq Aziz’s self-governing council formula could be one way, and there could be many others. But one thing is for sure, a war is not one of them.

Feature Image Credits: Al Jazeera
Nikhil Kumar
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While the nation cries for war, what happens to the families left behind? Read a Defence kid’s perspective on coping, loss, and war, in lieu of the Pulwama violence.

When I try to recall early memories of my mother, I can remember that my mother was 27 years old when she had to single-handedly take care of one child who cried a lot, and another who ran away a lot. All this time my father, serving in the Indian Navy, was often away sailing for months. I was four when the place my father was posted in got hit by an earthquake, and my mother had to care for us while my father was away protecting other families hit by the disaster.

Despite all this, I am one of the most privileged children. While the news of the Pulwama attack enraged many, and talks about ‘revenge’ and counterattacks began, newspapers almost immediately dug out stories of their families. While Thaka Belkar was one of the lucky ones, who got out of the bus which was hit because his leave was sanctioned at the last minute, this was not the fate several others met with. Rohitash Lamba, one of the men who lost their lives, left his two-yearold behind at an age too young to understand the notions of politics and warfare. Only a year after his marriage, Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhondiyal was killed in Pulwama. Constable Kulwinder Singh, the sole child and breadwinner of his family, also did not return home. A thousand tears, forty-four families, and the love for one nation; these are stories of valour and the uniform they wear.

Being a Defence child, I have lived in the best places with the best facilities. Having seen from a young age how my father had to stay away, how he lived the same life when my grandfather, in the Indian Army, was posted in the smallest of regions, I have known that this sacrifice is incomparable to the sacrifices of many others. The Pulwama attack is devastating for the families of the martyrs who will now have to live away from them forever. Garima Abrol, the wife of Martyr squadron leader Samir Abrol of the Indian Air Force asked the nation in a post shared on Instagram- “How many more pilots have to give up their life to shake you up and make you realise there is something really wrong in the system? A pilot is not made in a day, it takes a decade of training for their souls to get moulded for the job… I need answers.”

The Pulwama attack has stirred the nation, but the politicisation of this issue for benefits to accrue in the elections is saddening. While the fingers of the families of these jawans wipe their tears, others’ only point at the ‘anti-nationalist’. We are proud to belong to Defence families. We are proud to have our parents working for the country, and love for the country holds a different meaning to us than it does to many. We demand justice. We do not demand bloodshed, and a war destructive to humanity.

Feature Image Credits: Defence Lover

Shivani Dadhwal

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While the TV news in India frequently fails in providing relevant information to the citizens and rather becomes an arena for incessant shouting, it also operates in subtler ways. The mere language of headlines, hashtags and names of shows should raise eyebrows.

American linguist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky, theorised the ‘propaganda model’ of the mass media in his book Manufacturing Consent, wherein he talked about five filters of the media: ownership, advertising, sources, flak, and creation of a common enemy. In a nutshell, media institutions are part of big conglomerates who sell their products to advertisers, and whose sources of information are also the elites; those who oppose these elite interests face flak from the system, while a common ideological enemy is created to spread propaganda.

Yet, it doesn’t take a renowned philosopher to observe elements of this model operating on a daily basis; most Indian news shows seem to be following it to near perfection in some or the other way.

Those dramatic headlines coupled with theatrical music and imagery need to only be slightly observed to understand the suggestive undertones of the programmes. Not only biases, but provocation can also be seen. Sentimental and emotive elements are consciously used to shape narratives and capture viewers. News edges closer to the genre of entertainment. Apart from the more conspicuous displays of these elements as seen in the debates and the role of star-anchors, much subtler mechanisms also seem to be at play – headlines, hashtags, and even the names of the shows are culpable.

The most visible examples of this can be seen during critical situations. Since Thursday, following the Pulwama attack, news channels focused almost exclusively on the incident – and rightly so. Yet, the gravity of the situation was used by the channels to draw in audiences with their theatrics. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with drawing audiences, because that’s what news channels literally run on, but the problem arises when the techniques used for this purpose pose harms.

For instance, consider the headlines during the 9 P.M. Broadcast of Aaj Tak on Thursday – “Ye hamla nahi, jang ka ailaan hai” (It’s not an attack, it’s a proclamation of war), “Surgical strike nahi, seedha prahaar hi raasta?” (Not surgical strike, but a direct attack is the solution?). During situations like these, when emotions of the public run high and a sense of frustration surrounds the masses, the responsibility of providing a calm and measured coverage of the news lies with the media to an even greater extent, especially on widely-watched channels like Aaj Tak. Of course, a sense of anger was present in the public. But by using provocative headlines – those that hint towards a call for war – these news shows not only fuel the fire but also send out a wrong message. Similar headlines were seen in Friday’s ‘DNA’ show on Zee News.

News shows often use problematic headlines and tickers.
News shows often use problematic headlines and tickers. Image Credits: YouTube

Be it ex-servicemen, defence experts, or even many common people, there exists a recognition that war isn’t a joke. Yet it makes for good TV, doesn’t it? The severity of a war, the appeal for revenge, the impending danger – all of it draws the audience. Instead of responsibly analysing the situation and, in fact, making an appeal to the viewers to maintain calm and let the concerned authorities take the necessary steps, such programming tries to capitalise on the emotion to attract audiences by stoking the fire. Drawing in viewers also means pulling in more advertisers. That’s just one example of how the filters operate. Yet, these instances aren’t limited to the coverage of emergency situations.

In fact, the mere usage of hashtags in everyday programming points to a bigger picture. Hashtags trend on Twitter, giving news channels an idea of what type of news pieces would sell. Further, this would allow them to focus more strongly on populist topics, which can potentially sideline some crucial but less market-friendly issues. The style and substance of the news shows is also reflected in the popularity of these hashtags; if a particular style of news attracts more tweets, channels will have greater incentive to keep going with that style.

Furthermore, the language of hashtags is also important. A simple YouTube search entry of “Republic TV debate” presents a multitude of clips of Arnab Goswami’s primetime debate show. Every video thumbnail has a hashtag in it. ‘#RahulFakeNews’, ‘#RepublicBharatVsAMU’, ‘#CongAttacksHindus’, ‘#RahulLieCaught’, ‘#UnstableAlliance’, ‘#ModiVsWho’ – these are just some of the many hashtags that invite questions. The hashtags aren’t only reflective of a singular narrative but also give an idea on the type of tweets they’ll invite. Obviously, it won’t be in the show’s interest to display tweets that go against the narrative it wants to portray. Thus, very selective tweets are displayed, giving an impression to the viewers that what they’re watching is correct and supported by the public opinion as well.

The use of hashtags in debate shows also invites questions. Image Credits: YouTube
The use of hashtags in debate shows also invites questions. Image Credits: YouTube

Sensational issues are picked by many channels. CNN-News18’s weekly 10 P.M. show- ‘The Right Stand’ regularly focuses almost exclusively on issues having a religious angle.

Even the names of these shows should be inspected. Halla Bol, Takkar, and Dangal are also, in fact, names of action movies, almost as if the shows are meant to be a platform for speakers to brawl over issues; ‘Bhai vs Bhai’ and ‘The Great Debate Show’ seem to have an entertainment element inherently attached to them; ‘Arnab Goswami on the Debate @ 9’ puts more emphasis on the anchor than the news.

Obviously, it’s not possible to deconstruct and analyse every debate in a single piece and even these examples are selective. There are innumerable debates that may be deconstructed and analysed, but the aforementioned selective examples are reflective of a larger trend. A look at the substance of these debates glaringly points towards the problems in the media. But the point is- even inconspicuous elements like hashtags and headlines are at play. So, what does the language of news shows tell us? Bias, sensationalism, and irresponsibility, for a start.

Yet, it doesn’t mean that all’s bad. Even these shows sometimes pick real issues and do a good job covering and analysing them. Like the Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, Raj Kamal Jha said, “Good journalism is, in fact, growing; it’s just that bad journalism makes a lot more noise.”

Feature Image Credits: Newslaundry


Prateek Pankaj

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