From unsettled times to repressive freedom


Gautum Navlakha

I have little to say. Reason is simple. To report on everyday stable secure life punctuated by some days of turbulence is one thing. But to write day in and day out about your own lived experience of military suppression and about your own people filled with anger and fear, anxiety and rage is a different ball game. Censorship and self-censorship acquire a different meaning when parcel bombs and kidnapping and assassination are the order of the day. To then retain one’s sanity and humor, not cynical but skeptical…well that has been the trajectory.

Eighties had begun to prepare people to turbulent times ahead. But nothing prepared them for the staggering brutality and its magnitude. To live with this even when one is supposed to report on the everyday brutal reality is a different ball game. It is here that media in Kashmir stands out. Content analysis of newspapers starting 1989 to 2009 will substantiate my impression.

Last few years have been a period of transition with proliferation of magazines and newspapers and cabled news. While this is good news in terms of offering potentially plural sources of news and views. It would be na?ve for anyone to believe that the regime of Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) whas ended. Only that it has changed. We are into a period of accentuated ‘perception management’ in which managing media management is of critical importance.

But I must be fair. Earlier I read and followed news for information. But now views have become important. Don’t get me wrong. Views mattered even earlier. Difference is that decline in militancy was accompanied by decline of coverage of issues too. Earlier news mattered also more because one wanted to know what happened and get as much details as possible. Now when I read I search for news and plethora of views do not necessarily reflect plurality or quality.

Take environment which is now treated as being bigger than everything else. And yet, understanding environment from the point of view of how the LIC has impacted environment in terms of crowding of fragile areas by pilgrims and security forces, massing of troops at heights which form water basin are of critical importance. Or how when we talk about political-economy how say for instance water is harnessed, used and by which agency and whether local population exercises influence is important to know.

The point I am making is simply that Kashmir media is going through a transition from more unsettled times to repressive freedom and how space for dissent and dissident views are shrinking. It is this that stands out.
In other words ‘control, containment and checking’, to use Indian Prime Ministers words becomes necessary because Indian military behemoth controls the territory but does not have the allegiance of overwhelming majority of people who are reminded by each incident or crime how they remain enslaved by sheer brute force.

In such a situation if even protests get controlled then degree of control over people’s thought processes are sought to be augmented. Why? Because, as the Indian army explained in its Doctrine of Sub-Conventional Warfare the objective behind military suppressions is to “transform the will and attitude of the people”. But this is easier said than done.

Authorities are scared of letting people get news which tells them truth about their existential conditions, scared of free debate and discussion even in university and colleges, because they begin to pose uncomfortable questions about the nature of Indian presence in J&K, and therefore, authorities’ ruthless attempt to suppress protests and exaggerated concern over stone pelters. How else can one explain invoking ‘waging war’ against stone pelters which can invite death penalty with no one asking elementary question of proportionality.

This is where media faces its challenge. To report, analyses and explain even that which is disconcerting without losing the rootedness which enabled it to stand tall when blood and gore ruled the scene. A constant reminder for everyone that Kashmir remains enslaved and the real fundamental issue remains unresolved.


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