Media persons working in any conflict zone face a host of hazards ranging from the ever-looming threat of bodily harm to serious psychological infirmities such as ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’. Scribes who strongly believe in objective reporting run the additional risk of retribution as their reportage ends up riling feuding entities. This phenomenon was quite common in the Kashmir Valley during early 90s, and manifested itself in the form of open threats and brazen attacks by infuriated terrorist groups on media houses and journalists.
Similarly, the establishment ‘punished’ media houses that did not toe the official line by starving them financially through the age-old tactics of directing government departments not to place official advertisements in the ‘errant’ newspapers. However, by the mid-nineties both the establishment and terrorist groups in J&K seemed to have realised that image building by intimidating the media was proving to be counterproductive and so they made some amends.
Media houses and journalists in Kashmir Valley too realised that under the existing circumstances, it was best to be ‘practical’ while reporting on terrorism related incidents in a manner that didn’t offend the establishment or the terrorists. So, it’s not strange that while terrorist-initiated incidents of targeted killings and attacks resulting in loss of life or limb of innocent civilians are invariably attributed to “unidentified gunmen,” news of successes against security forces never fails to mention the identity of the terrorist group responsible for the attack!
Ask anyone who remains abreast with what’s happenings in J&K and you’ll be told that in the ongoing ‘battle’ to win ‘hearts and minds’, the pro-Pakistan lobby led by All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] has fared much better that the Indian establishment. While conventional apathy and red tape are undoubtedly largely responsible for lackluster performance of India’s establishment on the media front, the main reason for this sorry state of affairs is New Delhi’s antiquated mindset.
Consequently, India’s polity and bureaucracy both fail to appreciate that the phenomenal increase in domestic anti-India tirade on the Kashmir issue is actually part of a much bigger ‘perception warfare’ gameplan being orchestrated from across the Radcliffe Line. The harsh reality is that despite clear indicators, New Delhi doesn’t seem to be prepared to fight fire with fire by adopting a more proactive and aggressive media outreach to thwart the devious designs of inimical forces.
This is extremely unfortunate, as some so-called ‘rights activists’ openly adopt a patently motivated anti-India stance. Everyone appears to be in awe of famous personalities like Arundhati Roy and Gautam Navlakha, who have all the time and energy to rave and rant on what they perceive to be institutionalized excesses against Kashmiris. However, no one seems to question their bald-faced selectivity and stoic silence on the issue of innocent civilians being mercilessly killed by terrorist groups- even when they upload videos showing brutal Islamic State like executions and have the gall to proudly accept responsibility for such acts!
Similarly, no one ever seems to question these self-anointed human rights crusaders as to why does their untainted conscience conveniently desert them when they see the video of a teenaged girl being mercilessly shot dead even as she pleads for mercy with folded hands? Due to lack of credible evidence, to assign any personal motives to such shamelessly selective display of concern for human rights, would be incorrect. But then, what else explains such an irrational behavior coming from people, well known for their professed sensitivities and extraordinary mental faculties? How can death of self-confessed terrorists involved in killing unarmed civilians become a humungous human tragedy, but the murder of civilians by terrorists on unproven charges of being informers be treated as a non-issue by them?
With a former Pakistani High Commissioner to India admitting that he was able to “convince” a well-known Indian writer to write “an article in the newspaper for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination,” the suspicion that some well-known personalities may be taking an anti-India position on this issue for reasons other than genuine convictions, definitely gains more strength. Furthermore, Basit’s triumphant encore that this writer “wrote at the end of her article, ‘Now the time has come to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all through a plebiscite’,” does suggest that Islamabad is definitely following an ingenious ‘mind-control’ campaign to seduce members of literary and social activism circles to further its own contrived Kashmir narrative!
This covert campaign continues unabated and sems to have permeated into every nook and corner of society in Kashmir.
In 2019, a student of journalism named Adil Farook was arrested under the Public Safety Act [PSA] for having links with terrorists. One of charges on which he was booked pertained to “transportation of illegal arms and ammunition through unconventional routes and away from the security forces.” However, no sooner had Farook been taken into custody, there was a public outrage against his arrest and the well-oiled, pro-Pakistan propaganda lobby along with its proxies took to social media with vengeance-accusing the Indian establishment of using strong arm tactics to muzzle the media in Kashmir.
Hurriyat Leader Mirwaiz Umar Farookh was one amongst the many who spoke up for Farook. In his tweet, Mirwaiz wrote- “Strongly condemn the arrest of Adil Farooq, a journalism student at Central University of Kashmir who been falsely booked under Public Safety Act (PSA)and shifted to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. It seems the govt is hellbent upon ruining the careers of students and youth by implicating them in fake cases, we demand his immediate release.” With a highly respected and widely revered preacher like Mirwaiz claiming that the student of journalism had been framed, anti- government feelings hit the roof.
However, the saying that every lie has a ‘shelf life’ came true on last Tuesday when Farook was once again arrested, and this time, red-handed.
During routine check of pedestrians in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar on that day, J&K police recovered two hand grenades from Farook’s possession. Coming within hours of a grenade attack in the same area that left 10 civilians injured, and when there was an enhanced threat of terrorist attacks before Independence Day, this very important find possibly averted twin disasters. However, what’s really disquieting is the fact that inspite of being a member of the journalist fraternity and currently working as sub-editor of CNS News Agency in Srinagar, Farook chose to indulge in such an act that has brought disrepute to his profession.
Whereas Farook’s motivation is not clear, but the one issue which can’t be disputed is that being a media person working in a conflict zone, he was well aware of both what great harm grenades can cause and how are they being used in Kashmir. Even without precise data on grenade casualties in Kashmir, one can say with full confidence that the overall number of fatalities and injuries caused by grenades to civilians in here are far greater than those suffered by security forces. This is why there can be no justification for Farook’s misdemeanour, which by any standards, downright despicable
Therefore, those who consider themselves conscience-keepers of society or champions of human rights need to decide whether they want to support a criminal caught in flagrante with two grenades- a munition which terrorists invariably use in crowded places, or, stand up for the innocent Kashmiris, who unwittingly get killed or injured by such grenades, which in Kashmir, have an inexplicable propensity of missing their intended targets.
Most importantly, it would be interesting to hear what Mirwaiz has to say this time about the detention of his namesake scribe because even Farook chose to ferry the grenades for ideological reasons, the fact that the same would pose a threat to locals present at the site where they would be used makes him an accessory to the killing and injuring his own people. Hence it would not be presumptuous to regard fourth estate member Adil Farook as a fifth columnist!