As India starts to digitalize its cable network, people in Kashmir stick to cables for love of Pakistani channels. Safwat Zargar talks to the people to know what drives their preferences
While the process of digitization of local cable networks in Srinagar city almost blurred the lines between local cable connections and private satellite direct-to-home services (DTH), most of the people across Srinagar have preferred for set-top boxes supplied by local cable operators, worrying the distributors of private satellite DTH systems. According to the distributors, the sales graph has seen downfall this year, after ‘the burgeoning business in last few years. One among the many factors that is keeping the sales graph down is the following of Pakistani channels, which are not available on the private DTH services.
“The business of private satellite television service providers is finished now,” says Shabir Ahmad, owner of Music Point at bustling business hub of Amira Kadal, Srinagar. “People have cent-per-cent attachment with Pakistan, they relate with their programs. They also like to watch Islamic channels and local language cable channels.”
“Local cable will dominate in Kashmir in future, because what people here prefer to watch is not available on the private satellite systems,” says Shabir who used to sell almost 20 private DTH systems quarterly. “I sell only five to six DTH systems now, quarterly. There have been cases where customers have given up private satellite set-top boxes and opted for local cable instead.”
Currently seven different brands – Tata Sky, Airtel digital TV, Dish TV, Sun Direct, Reliance Digital TV, DD Direct+ & Videocon D2H – of private satellite television providers are available in the market. The impulse to watch Pakistani channels emanates from the fact that many viewers in Kashmir identify themselves with Pakistani culture and Urdu language.
The phenomenon is not strange to Kashmir where a lot of people want to remain updated with what is happening in Pakistan. During 1990s, the craze of Pakistan radio programmes would drive silence in the curfewed nights. People were seen fiddling with the dish antennas to catch a signal of PTV. Though the charisma, over the period of years, has faded now with the coming of advanced technologies and diversified choice, the trend has shifted to particular preferences of the audience. In Kashmir valley, there is a huge following of Pakistani TV serials, Islamic lectures and news debates in Kashmir valley, where more than 200 channels of the globe – mostly Indian – are available to the audience through local cable networks.
“There are certain parameters for my choice of television programs; I want to remain upbeat about what is happening in Pakistan and I like to watch Islamic channels broadcast from Pakistan, in addition, there are no Kashmiri language channels on private satellite television providers” Shahid Ahmad, a young media graduate, explains. “We have never gone for private DTH services, nor are we planning to go in future.”
Local news channels continues to be banned in Kashmir since 2010 uprising in which more than 100 youth were killed by Police and Indian Paramilitary forces in firing – one of the many measures government used to block out news from Kashmir.
In addition to the unavailability of Pakistani channels, the absence of local Kashmiri channels, cost of channel packages and lack of choice, etc. are some of the reasons which have put a brake on the sales of DTH services.
According to rough estimates there are almost 50,000 cable connections in Srinagar city alone. Mukhtar Ahmad, Executive Director of Site Entertainment Network (SEN) one of the biggest local cable networks in Srinagar, explains that the non-availability of local language channels and Islamic channels impacts the decision of a customer, whether to buy a private satellite system or go for local cable connection. “Local language channels with a diverse package of entertainment has a huge audience, the cost is a factor also. We provide 200 channels of every genre to a customer for 200 rupees a month where as a customer has to pay almost 400-500 rupees for those channels on private DTH.”
After initial surge in DTH sales in Kashmir people switched back to local cable networks because of the non-availability of Pakistani channels on DTH.
“Most people enquire about the availability of Pakistani channels on private satellite systems before purchasing,” says Irfan Gul Salroo, owner of Galaxy Enterprises in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. “The preference for Pakistani channels – particularly news channels and Islamic channels – definitely impacts the sales of private satellite systems.”
Not denying the fact that many Kashmiri housewives are addicted to the daily Indian soap operas, but a lot of families including youngsters in Kashmir identify themselves with the Pakistani culture and tradition-hence Pakistani channels.
“Local Kashmiri channels and Pakistani channels are not available on private direct- to-home services, so after digitization, we opted for a set top box, because our cable operator was providing us with the channels of our choice,” says Aneeka Fareed, a Pharmacy student from Srinagar who likes to watch Hum TV and never miss ‘Bul Bulay’- a famous Pakistani sitcom, broadcast on Ary Digital.
Why Pakistani channels? “Because they show a Muslim set up to which we can easily relate. Moreover these Hindi serials make no sense and are revolving round the old melodrama which in this date looks weird,” Aneeka reasons.
Kashmiri artist and director, Arshid Mushtaq says that language plays a very important role in identification of Kashmiris with the Pakistani serials. “Apart from the language, the roots of cultural proximity and emotional attachment with Pakistan can be traced from the days of partition when most of the Kashmiris believed that Kashmir would become a part of Pakistan,” Arshid says. “It has much to do with the folklore; still women in Kashmir sing couplets of a Pakistani warrior on marriages rather than anyone else.”
For Mudasira, a house-wife from Dargah Hazratbal, the purpose to watch Pakistani serials “is to get fashion tips as they too wear Kameez Shalwars and it can be incorporated here, and these days it’s the only reason Pakistani outfits are becoming a growing trend here as well.”
Mudasira is fed-up of “commercialised and unrealistic dramatic sequences” of Indian soap operas. “Pakistani serials show a tender love affair and are relevant, far away from the idealistic showmanship of Indian serials,” says Mudasira, whose favourite serials are Bulbuley and Dugdugi.
Mudasira has another reason as well, “Pakistani serials can be watched with whole family.”
Commenting on technical terms, Arshad believes that there is an excellent quality of television serials of Pakistan as compared to Indian soap operas. “The level of programming and direction including story, plot and care of values and ethics is much better than Indian television serials.”
“Indian television is money driven and Pakistani television is idea driven. Even the most famous serials don’t surpass 18 episodes, in contrast Indian soap operas run for years at a stretch without even a tinge of originality in the story.”
However, according to Arshad, there is another reason to the people’s choice of Pakistani serials, “television and radio in Kashmir is an Indian propaganda tool, and as a result people do not identify with it, because it does not show the realities of Kashmir.”
“For many people in Kashmir, watching Pakistani serials is a form of resistance,” he says.