When Indian state of Uttarakhand was caught in the worst ever deluge last year, the focus of media – and rightly so – was pinpointing the failures of the state government and other agencies of the central government so that precious lives are saved. However, priorities and preferences changed when it came to covering the Kashmir floods of 2014. A section of Indian national media, especially TV channels, chose to turn the entire coverage into a spectacle in which its Armed Forces were shown as heroes risking their lives to save lives of Kashmiris – ‘the very people who detest their presence in the Valley’.
The whole catastrophe in the Valley which has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced millions is being named as ‘Mission Kashmir’ for Indian Army. One wonders how these journalists can stoop to such a low level!
Across the world we have seen governments actively involved in nation building through providing relief, rescuing people and rehabilitating the displaced people. The problems of people are given priority and the inadequacies of the government machinery brought to the fore. Nowhere the drama is enacted the way we are witnessing it here.
To look at a natural calamity through the prism of ‘national interest’ defeats logic and reflects the mindset within the Indian establishment. One cannot but lament the lack of ethics among Indian media that couldn’t even question the timing of letter concerning the identification of land within Kashmir for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits which was shot at Chief Minister Omar Abdullah by Home Minister Rajnath Singh when the valley was struggling with furious floods and the life and property of the people of Kashmir was at serious stake.
Needless to remind the fact that a Pandit organization issued a statement which got circulated through the social media wherein they had prayed for the incessant rains in Kashmir so that the it was cleansed of all ‘sinners’ (Kashmiri Muslims) and again turned into mythological ‘Satisar’.
The Supreme Court of India slammed the sluggish efforts of the government in carrying out rescue and relief operations. Left embarrassed, the government of India filed a petition that Supreme Court of India should abstain itself from meddling in issues which fall within the domain of the Executive. However, the Supreme Court of India rejected this plea of the government and in its latest order issued a guideline for the government with regard to relief and rehabilitation of the affected people.
Sadly, Indian media didn’t find this important ruling of Supreme Court worth debating, let alone criticizing the government for its sluggishness in reaching out to the people left devastated by floods. Had it been any other state, the 24×7 media would have cornered the Indian establishment.
The fact of the matter is that the reportage of Indian news channels revolved around the ‘heroism of Army, BSF and NDRF’. The irony is that even a natural disaster which led to the worst humanitarian crisis in Kashmir in a century is being exploited as an integration tool by the media in its jingoistic frenzy.
If media was so honestly reporting from the flood-hit valley, why didn’t volunteer and selfless efforts of the people of Kashmir find a mention in the debates on national media? The youth of Kashmir braved all odds and risked their lives to save their fellow brethren from the flood fury. They didn’t discriminate or seek the religious identity while rescuing people. They didn’t ask for the nationality of those who were caught in great peril. Even the police and army personnel were rescued in the time of peril. The same was done when it came to providing relief in the form of food, water and clothes.
People in the areas which were not seriously affected by the floods mobilized unprecedented efforts collecting relief and rushed to the worst affected areas like Srinagar, Anantnag and Pulwama. Hundred of temporary relief camps were established in an eye blink. People went out of their way and accommodated large number of survivors in their own houses. This is the undying sprit of Kashmir and we will survive through any ordeal till we carry on with this humane sprit. The people of Kashmir proved to the world that they have an indomitable spirit which will see them persevering through all testing times. This is the lesson we have learnt and the lesson we have served. The media perhaps deliberately missed out on this.
My last point. The government has the responsibility towards its people. Notwithstanding the overwhelming freedom sentiment in Kashmir, India officially acknowledges and administers it. The union government of India and the state government owe a moral responsibility towards the people of Kashmir in all situations.
Interviewing non-locals about the heroism of Army and the ‘extraordinary arrangements’ of the central government of India makes no sense. The India media has lost a golden opportunity in evincing belief and restoring its credibility among the people of Kashmir by being very selective and highly biased in their coverage of the floods. The three decades of conflict have made the people of Kashmir sensitive, serious and intelligent enough to sift jingoism from pure journalism.