Media, the communication channel used to disseminate information, is evolving since its inception. There is a perpetual evolution in the outlets and forms of communication, starting from the ancient cave paintings to the modern screen age social medium, but as Yuval Noah Hariri said in Sapiens, the constant, which differentiate the humans from other animals, is its ability to create and believe in the fiction or untruth in this regard. With the proliferation of mass media and its particular use as a tool for the dissemination of true and accurate information, what we call journalism, the news outlets have become powerful strategic tools that can be exploited by an actor for their gains. In one way, mass media possess the power to eradicate the evil and solve social and political problems but on the other side, it can create a much bigger problem and induce cognitive dissonance in the societies. The case of the disputed territory of Kashmir and plight of its demography is quintessential in this regard, where Indian nationalist media had propagated their narrative of legitimacy and mislead the global community about the grave violations of human rights carried out by the occupational forces of the country in this beautiful valley.
The struggle of Kashmir started before the partition of India and Pakistan, in the 1930s, and underlying reason of this freedom struggle is the Hindu oppression on the Muslims of Kashmir, which then were the majority population of the territory. Tracing the fault line of this conflict tells us that Muslims of the region agitated against the Dogra Raj for their religious independence and freedom to worship according to their will. Since then, from the last 90 years, the Kashmiri’s are struggling for their birthright of self-determination and religious freedom but the Indian nationalist media misrepresented the facts and endorsed a narrative of their legitimacy. This narrative has been picked up the international mainstream media as well, as scholarly narrated by the Hernández R. in his case study of Indian reporting on the Kashmir Conflict. A term, “strange duality” was focused in his writings, stating that the region has become an international battleground of media coverage of the conflict. Here “India is pushing a narrative of legitimacy through media control, and the international media on the other leaning too heavily into a narrative of a violent oppressor –India and disregarding the repressive actions carried out by India in the region”.
The standards of an Indian journalist and news outlets are usually wide off the mark when they are reporting a news story about Kashmir. This leads to the questioning of journalistic standards and ethics of Indian media in its stories regarding conflict-ridden Kashmir valley. The famous Indian journalist Burka Dutt questioned the reporting bias of Indian and foreign media and media controlling strategy of Narendra Modi in case of Kashmir related news. In an article published at Washington Post, she stated, “There has been a complete absence of historicity and context in a lot of reporting and some cases even a shortage of facts. The world is being told that this is an unprecedented situation.”
An example of this journalistic bias, spiralling into a cognitive dissonance for the news consumer across the globe, is labelling Pakistan as fueling the separatist movements, sponsoring terror and arming the insurgents of Kashmir. These state-led fake news circulation or controlling the news outlets for disseminating the objective news about the happenings of Indian occupied Kashmir are evident from reporting of Indian channels about the Pulwama, Uri attack, and Balakot airstrikes.
However, the situation is quite different and India is using this narrative as a shield and pretext for their blatant human rights violations in the contested territory.
Arundhati Roy addressed the case of enforced disappearances in Indian held Kashmir, stating that, “Indian media is suffering from schizophrenia as its reports portray zero reflection about the reality in J&K. Indian media is busy painting a rosy picture of normalcy, which is false.” Numerous other fair-minded scholars and activists have seconded the impression that the despotic Indian government is controlling the media for reinforcing their governmental perspective through angling the Kashmir related news stories as a state security issue.
The extra-judicial killings of innocent Kashmiris have been slanted and skewed to look like a case of cross-border terrorism and Indian soldiers have been presented as heroes but in its essence, it is nothing more than anti-Pakistan propaganda fueled by the domineering regime of world’s so-called largest democracy. A news story broadcasted by the Indian media in 2010, about “killing of three terrorists attempting to cross the Line of Control in the wee hours in the Machil sector in frontier district Kupwara of north Kashmir”, was later on uncovered as a case of fake encounter by the belligerent Indian forces. The investigation exhumed the fact that these young men were missing from their villages from a month and this heinous act of cold-murder was carried out the Indian soldiers to earn promotions. There are numerous similar cases when innocent and unarmed Kashmiri citizens were abducted and shot dead, and upon protests and demonstration of them civilians, the Indian government, in turn, imposed curfews and blackouts to curb the animosities, leading to an increased onslaught of Indian occupational forces. The mainstream media have reported none of this because somehow, it was not in favour of the state’s narrative and national interest and it would have derogated and demoralized the Indian forces, but on the cost of journalistic values and objectivity of reporting.
Arnab Goswami, one of India’s most famous and controversial TV anchors, blazes away at global media outlets for “peddling fake news” about Kashmir, according to TRT World report.
There are numerous cases of Indian government using media for the altering the perception of the news consumers about Pakistan as the perpetrator of terror, like in case of Afzal Guru, who was used as a Scapegoat by Indian agencies in their orchestrated terror plan used the media to brand Mr Guru as guilty even before the trial. The Delhi High Court acknowledged that the investigating agency fabricated evidence against the accused, yet upheld the verdict. Mr Guru’s trial does not meet international standards for a fair trial: he was denied due process, legal counsel and the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Another false flag operation of the Indian government, namely the Ahmedabad bombings 2008 –where a sequence of 21 explosive blasts that hit the same city in which more than 200 people wounded. The blasts contained the similarity index with the Bangalore blasts and the Karnataka incident. The Indian media agenda setting exposed the false flag action of India and the pro-government media claimed that the Indian Mujahideen accepted the responsibility of the attacks, however; the fact revealed that these were the incidents of religious extremism and Hindu-Muslim Communal violence.
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal unearthed India’s surgical strike stratagem of 2016 Uri Attack when the Indian government created the situation to instigate tensions at Pakistan-India border and to build the discourse of pre-emptive action and to dramatically glorify the Indian armed forces they orchestrated the so-called surgical strikes. To legitimize the flimsy discourse, Indian government-sponsored writers and film-makers to document the fictional surgical strikes, to persuade their population and to tempt them into Hindutva tendency.
Another blatant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has carried out the BJP regime in Kashmir was the curb on the freedom of expression of Kashmiri citizens. After the invasive revocations of Article 370 and 35-A, the Hindutva regime has imposed communication blackout by seizing all mobile phone and internet communications in the illegally occupied territory of Kashmir. As a result, the innocuous citizens of the valley were unable to communicate and access the news, and in the mean, while more than 3800 people were arrested including the prominent activists and politicians of Kashmir. In the wake of this undemocratic development, the protests and demonstrations of locals were denied by the Indian government, albeit the video recordings of the happening. Prominent mainstream news outlets like BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera reports of torture, killings and kidnappings of unarmed Kashmiris by the occupational forces were denied by the Indian government and its ministries, and the government pushed the state-sponsored narrative on all media channels of the country.
In recent times, the social media channels, especially Twitter and Facebook have been used for spearheading the state-sponsored narrative and all journalists writing about the issues in Kashmir were called Jihadi propagandists who are peddling the fake news.
Shashi Tharoor, also pointed out the BJP led the campaign of recruiting voters via mobile phones before elections in the world’s largest democracy and other reports alluded that the troll-army of BJP endorsed the state narrative and denials of government about any human rights violation in the occupied territory through labelling it as an anti-state narrative. Arvind Rajagopal, senior professor at New York University stated, “I have seen several thousand people being employed to post BJP-friendly messages online and make life difficult for their opponents.” Angna Chatterji said that Indian government is controlling the media for influencing public opinion and this is parallel to curbing the freedom of speech –a tactic adopted by the authoritarian regimes.
This news controlling approach of the Indian government is used to hide the dark realities of Kashmir and the government’s harsh actions in the valley. This is not only an attempt to deprive the people of truth they deserve to know but it is a distortion of history and an injustice to the ‘journalism’. Kashmir is the most militarized zone peaked with human right abuses in the world but Indian media is hiding the truth it through strong-armed and abysmal journalism.