Zooming In On Kashmir

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The Ministry of Home Affairs commissions a major survey of Kashmir to gauge the Kashmiri’s bent of mind when it comes to politics, media, awareness and more. Kashmir Life gains access to the findings from the assessment, conducted by the Institute for Research on India and International Studies (IRIIS).

The Jammu & Kashmir division of the Ministry of Home Affairs had commissioned IRIIS to undertake ‘A Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth’ in June 2010. The premises of this study were that youth hold an important key to understanding Kashmir’s political dynamics, since they had spearheaded the militant secessionist movement in the late 1980s and, they remain at the forefront of the street violence that has rocked the Valley in the past couple of years. The sheer demographic fact that currently 48 percent of the Kashmir Valley’s population falls within the age group of 15 to 35 years underscores the importance of this study.

The survey was administered in January 2011 in six districts of the Kashmir Valley: one each from a rural and urban location in South Kashmir, North Kashmir and Central Kashmir. These included Srinagar and Budgam in Central Kashmir; Anantnag and Kulgam in South Kashmir; Baramulla and Bandipora in North Kashmir.
This study is first of its kind in Jammu & Kashmir. It’s based on extensive field research by an 85 member strong team of project leaders, coordinators, field investigators, supervisors and local researchers.

Key Findings
The general political awareness of the Kashmiri youth is very high. They access multiple channels of communication to get news and if an important event or a crisis is unfolding, they tend to verify the news from various alternate sources.

The Media Outreach
TV/Radio channels score the highest rank for providing news and entertainment to the Kashmiri youth. Among these, the state-run TV/radio channels including DD News/DD Kashir, All India Radio and Radio Kashmir constitute the single largest source of news, which are watched by 74 percent of the youth. The local channels, in comparison, are viewed by 49 percent of the youth though these have been banned from telecasting any news programs since September 2010.

The Western international channels such as BBC and CNN and the private Indian TV channels compete closely for a third position at 43 percent and 41 percent respectively. Among the latter, NDTV is the most popular followed by Aaj Tak and CNN IBN. Some of the Middle Eastern TV channels such as Al Jazeera, Peace TV, and Press TV are also being watched by 27 percent of youth.

Nearly 60 percent of Kashmiri youth read both local English and Urdu dailies. Most important among these are Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma and Srinagar Times.

National newspapers in English language are read by only 17 percent of youth though this isn’t necessarily an indicator of their preferences alone because most national dailies simply do not reach the Valley in the morning hours.

Internet is gaining popularity among the youth though its access and usage is observed largely in the urban areas. 31 percent of youth access internet and among those, GPRS/3G on the mobile phones seems to be the most popular mode used by 77 percent of them. The web is used mainly for accessing local newspapers or to get news from Kashmir specific websites. The usage of social networking websites come close at the second position and Facebook is most popular site among these.

Contestation Between the ‘Local’ and the ‘National’ Media
A local versus national media debate evokes passionate arguments among the Kashmiri youth. The survey team’s discussions with the local youth unequivocally endorsed the conventional public wisdom that the local media is reliable, unbiased and reports truth—all the qualities, which the national media ‘lacks.’  The survey results strongly refute this supposition. The general public perception that national dailies do not ‘understand Kashmir’ also does not stand scrutiny.

The international TV channels are rated as the best for providing reliable information. And, local channels are rated better than the state-run channels as well as the private Indian news channels, though the numbers of those who consider the state-run channels to be unreliable is only 9 percent, and for all other categories of channels, this figure remains negligible. Overall, a high proportion of the youth ranging from 55 percent to 80 percent, consider the electronic media to be reliable.

The local media in Kashmir works in rather opaque conditions. The official circulation figures of most newspapers are highly exaggerated. The lack of transparency in funding mechanisms of local publication has also created a phenomenon of ‘ghost’ or fictitious papers mostly supported by dubious funding which act implicitly and sometimes brazenly as a mouthpiece of their patrons or, used for dubious purposes such as tax evasion. Also, no detailed data about the viewership records of the TV channels is available in the public domain.

Kashmiri Youth: An ‘Inward- Looking’ Generation?
The current generation of Kashmiri youth has firmly fixed their political gaze on local developments in the Kashmir Valley. Diverse media sources including TV/Radio, newspapers and internet are accessed primarily for news on Kashmir, which also dominates their conversations in the social spaces.

This is partly because their local surroundings hugely impact on their daily lives and partly because that’s what is mostly offered by the local media. A qualitative analysis of a random sample of five hundred stories of Greater Kashmir—read by 96 percent of the youth accessing local English newspapers—from summer 2008 till December 2010 shows that 63 percent of its stories revolved around the Kashmir conflict and ongoing political violence of one or another kind. A random survey of Facebook pages on Kashmir and a qualitative reading of some of the popular blogs also show that those espousing the cause of the Kashmir dispute and the separatist agendas dominate the web-based discourses on Kashmir.

Their ‘disconnect’ with India is evident as not more than 20 to 26 percent of the entire Valley’s youth are following developments in India. This is partly due to the historical baggage they carry and partly because there are hardly any avenues available which expose them to an alternate way of understanding India both in terms of its past legacies and, as a land of opportunities in the future.

The current generation of youth also records a sharply waning interest about developments in Pakistan.

A Valley-Centric Notion of Kashmir
The Valley’s youth is not only Kashmir-centric in their thinking but their idea of what Kashmir stands for is predominantly shaped by developments in the Valley.

They show little interest and have poor awareness about those who live in other parts of Kashmir, both within and beyond the Line-of-Control. Only 31 percent of the youth in the Valley is aware of the correct political status of Azad Kashmir that it’s autonomous but under Pakistan’s control. 17 percent of them simply had no idea about it and 38 percent believe that it is an independent country. And, only nine percent of them knew the correct political status of Gilgit and Baltistan, i.e.

Northern Areas while nearly 50 percent have no idea about the products that are being traded across the Line-of-Control.
A substantial majority, 67 percent of the youth believe that Kashmiri Pandits should return to the Valley but 70 percent of these acknowledged that they hadn’t done anything about it. Only 18 percent have publicly supported this cause. Their reaction to the flash floods and landslides that hit Ladakh in 2010 was not much different. 41 percent admitted of having done nothing about it while the proportion of those who helped out in some way did not exceed 20 percent.

Vision for the Political Future of Kashmir
Rights matter for the Kashmiri youth though their public discourse is still framed through the usage of more popular vocabulary of self-rule and azadi. While 54 percent of youth identified azadi as their preferred final status of J&K, a further exploration of its diverse meanings yields a much more nuanced picture. For 56 percent of these youth azadi was about Kashmiris’ rights—political rights, civil rights and economic rights.

Others whose idea of azadi centers around the notion of a ‘territorially separate Kashmir’ includes eight percent envisaging a sovereign and independent state of Jammu & Kashmir; 11 percent wanting ‘freedom from India’ and, 10 percent who said azadi means a separate Kashmir without furnishing any further details.

Modes and Platforms for ‘doing’ Politics
For a large proportion of Kashmiri youth, the freedom of democratic practices translates into participating in political rallies or protest marches and observing bandhs. An overwhelming 75 percent of youth feel that peaceful political protests are the most effective means for achieving their political aspirations. Though only 12 percent admitted their own regular participation in political rallies, they were much less hesitant in acknowledging their participation in the older political protests ranging from a few months to a couple of years. At the same time, the ranks of those protesting on the streets are steadily growing.

A segment of youth, mostly in the age group of 20 to 35 years, have been using cultural expression via films, music, art, novels and poetry to make their voices heard. However, their numbers are very small making it difficult to measure their impact among the larger civil society in Kashmir.

What is acutely missing is the youth’s involvement in the mainstream democratic politics. Only five percent of the survey respondents have joined a political party while nine percent expressed their support for the Hurriyat. Only 12 percent have voted regularly and 50 percent had never voted.

These figures are only slightly tempered by the fact that 28 percent of the youth interviewed, had cast their vote in the 2008 state assembly elections and another seven percent had participated in the election campaigns. On the other hand, 44 percent had boycotted the elections or campaigned for its boycott. A more worrisome phenomenon is that the youth is not reaching out to any political leader seeking action or redress at times of a political crisis.

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