Gathering a bunch of Indian journalists to address a ‘first-ever’ media summit on Kashmir is akin to asking writers of interrogation manuals to speak on ethical treatment of prisoners. And what transpired at this event only seemed to confirm – with a handful of exceptions – that core ethical problem. What we had was journalists and some seedier specimens seeking to ‘instruct’ Kashmiris on what they are doing wrong. What we had was the spectacle of these people not stressing the primary responsibility of a journalist: that of critiquing power, of interrogating it, of always seeking an oppositional role as a true champion of free speech, truth and democracy; but asking students to abandon their dreams, to give up on their aspirations, to accept that might is right and, presumably, urge them towards careers as pen-pushers and regurgitators of press-releases. Kashmiris were again told the best way for them to be is to keep their mouths shut, or were they to open them, it must be only to articulate words chosen for them. Underlying this virtual diatribe delivered against Kashmiris, of course, lies the unease and patent dislike for the fact that emergent voices from Kashmir are challenging these old diktats, that coda of silence, and seeking, nay, demanding to be heard.
There may yet need to be studies to probe just what role the blatant lies and propaganda of most of the Indian media has played in furthering and worsening the Kashmir conflict. Remember one single fact, for instance: the current talk of radicalisation and Islamisation so highlighted by Indian media is not new; it has been screaming ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ right from the very first reports on the Kashmir insurgency. From that day to this, the Indian media’s favourite tools have been denial, delegitimisation and demonisation of Kashmiris and their demands, rights and political aspirations.
Faced with this, budding Kashmiri journalists must remember one primary lesson: in a situation such as theirs, the myth of objectivity isn’t just a lie, it is a stratagem of acquiescence, it is the imposition of an unholy paradigm that seeks to establish proportions between the brutal killer and the brutalised victim. Treading the path of truth is, indeed, a hard task in Kashmir. Not least because the myriad obfuscations that are woven around an event, every event, to complicate and problematise that essential truth. But to cut through all that and, like Arjuna in the Mahabharata, focus on only the eye of the bird, is what young Kashmiri journalists must aspire to.