On Kashmir, Indian media does a better job now, HT editor

SRINAGAR: Hindustan Times editor Bobby Ghosh, whose shift from business journalism to conflict reportage was made possible by Kashmir, has said that he found a contradiction in what was being reported on Kashmir and what was actually happening. He joined HT after being Time magazine’s long time world editor with exposure to Middle east conflict.

Asked about his life threatening situations in Kashmir when he was flown to do a Time cover, Aparisim “Bobby” Ghosh had to say this in a long interview. The interview appeared on Acadman website on June 2, 2017.

“Of course there was a life-threatening situation. There was violence…I went out on patrol…we didn’t call it embeds in those days with the Indian military unit. They got into a firefight with some insurgents. It got quite heavy…I had never seen anything like that before. There was live fire going on, explosions. But there were some unspoken rules of engagement that even people shooting each other would respect…We are in the middle of a raised highway. Soldiers on this side, insurgent on this side. Lots of fighting and shooting going on for 45 minutes. Suddenly, somebody shouts out – “Stop!” Stop? Who says stop in the middle of a fight? We realized that emerging from the forest on the other side was a man and his wife and their kid on a motorcycle and a side cart. An old motorcycle and an old side cart. And they were moving ever so slowly. And everyone stopped shooting. When they finally did the complete loop and disappeared into this side of the forest… the fighting started again. That kind of decorum doesn’t exist anymore.

For me, the most gut-wrenching thing to see was just how badly the Indian army was behaving. As an Indian, I had been raised on a diet of propaganda. Until recently the Indian media was complicit in that. The Indian media does a better job now but back then, nobody questioned the official line that the army was holding the line against terrorists, that the Kashmiris were somehow bad people and our jawans were brave and honorable. I saw with my own eyes that that was not true.”

Explaining his Kashmir trip that marked a complete shift in his journalism, Ghosh said:

“And then was the next stroke of luck…We wanted to do a big story on Kashmir… I had no real experience in conflict coverage…at all.  But our Delhi bureau chief at the time was having some difficulty getting permission from the Indian government to go to some parts of Kashmir as foreigners sometimes did in those days. I heard of this, and I said, “I am an Indian citizen, why don’t you let me go?” My editor said, “Well, you haven’t done this before.” I said, “Let me go…What’s the worst that can happen? I will come back without a story.” So they said, “Ok go.” So I went. It was just an accident of having the right passport and the right citizenship.”

“I was instantly hooked, and I immediately felt like that’s what I had been missing…that’s what was gnawing away at me, that’s the change I wanted — the chance to go cover conflict, not so much the bang bang, the adrenaline of it, but what conflict does to people, to society, how it changes the way people think, behave, act towards each other, how it changes interactions in society. I found that incredibly fascinating.”

Asked about his take on Kashmir as a conflict and way out, Ghosh has said:

“My experience in conflict zones has taught me that the only durable solutions are political and social… never military. War is sometimes necessary, but only to create the conditions where a political and social solution can be arrived at. In Kashmir, my view is that India’s leaders have for three decades passed the buck to the security forces, putting the burden on the Army, BSF, CRPF and police to find solutions to problems that are for the most part political in nature. This is an unfair burden on the security forces. Politicians, in Delhi as well as in Srinagar, should do their job. Given how much water has flowed down the Jhelum in the past 30 years, finding the solution will be hard and time-consuming. But it has to start and end with the politicians.”

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