MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE AMARNATH CONTROVERSY??"A CASE STUDY
Research by Aaliya Ahmed, Sabeha Mufti and Zara Malik,
Media Education Research Centre
Project coordinator, Sevanti Ninan
A Panos study
On August 31, 2008 the three-month long Amaranth agitation sparked by the transfer of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board ended with an agreement inked between the Government and the Shri Amaranth Sangharsh Samiti. Two years later questions remain about the role of the political class and the media in stoking the fires that erupted with successive government decisions on allotting land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board in June 2008. This is a preliminary inquiry into how the media reported the series of events.
Part II Media narratives: Jammu versus Kashmir
The edition of the Dainik Jagran published from Jammu took it upon itself in the summer of 2008 to give voice to Jammu's anger, anguish and sense of discrimination. The tenor of the paper's coverage suggested that it was a self- appointed chronicler of the storm that was building up, which would not be quelled until the land allotment revocation order was again reversed. Day after day, page after page of the issues it put out, sought to inflame. We take a look at just one week's coverage during the agitation period, when the paper described what was happening in the city as a repeat of Jallianwala Bagh.
On August 1 the paper published a five column photograph on the top of the page with the caption, 'Kaun rokega ye toofan?' (who can stop this cyclone?) It showed a crowd with arms raised, while the caption said people had gathered to hear the outcome of the meeting the governor had with the Sangharsh Samiti. Another picture on the page showed the fire set off by people after the meeting was unsuccessful.
Altogether there were nine photographs of clashes and protests on that page, including one of doctors jump into the 'andolan' and another of mass casual leave by employees. More pictures followed on page three. There was highly emotional coverage here of the woman whose husband Kuldip died during the protests. The story said that while her husband who was martyred in the cause of getting the shrine board land back, his body was insulted. 'They dragged his body. I fell on the policemen's feet and begged them not to. I can identify them if i see them,' she said. Above this account the paper headlined two slogans: 'har keemat pe vapas lenge zameen.' (We will take the land back at any cost.) And 'faisle ko lekar ek hai jammu' (on this decision Jammu is one.)
On August 3 page 1, the five column lead said, 'Halaat bekaboo, jammu sena ke hawale. (Situation out of hand, Jammu handed over to the army). The subhead said shoot at sight orders were in force. BJP leader Arun Jaitley's press conference was also on page one. Page 2 had six photographs showing how people had defied police curfew.
On page 3 that day there was a 5-column top of page headline, with a picture of Uma Bharati, and one of people listening to her. It said 'Deshbhakt musalmano se aage aane ka ahlan.' (In Udhampur Uma baharati urged patriotic Muslims to join Hindus in their demand.) Another headline read, 'Kashmir hamari hain aur jahan ichcha hogi wahan mandir aur ghar banayegi.' (Kashmir is ours and we will build our temple and home wherever we please.) She put new energy into the protestors, said the reporter on the spot.
The same day on the Dainik Jagran's Sarokar page the first article said: 'Ab sare adhikar chahiye, bas!' (Now we want all our rights) With the subhead:
'Kashmir ke tulna ek bhi kam hak par samjhauta nahin karenge ab jammu samaj ke nagarik.' (Jammu's citizens will not accept any rights less than those Kashmiris have) The article below that was headlined: 'Islami kattarpanth ke khilaf sulga hai Kammu.' (Jammu has risen against Islamic fundamentalism.)
At the top of the page a two-column comment was headlined ' Kahin der na ho jaaye' (Don't leave it till too late) The comment said that the current upheaval was the result of 60 years of discrimination, and if the land was not returned to the shrine board things would get worse. August 4. banner headline on Jagran City:'Naron ke visphot mein udi curfew ki dhajjiya'. (A burst of slogans destroyed the curfew.) The headline below says protestors are lathi charged. On a another page in the same issue the paper said in a headline that Hindus throughout the country were raring to take back the land allocated to the SASB and then taken back. 'Bhoomi vapas lene ki liye hunkare desh bhar ke Hindu'.
On August 5 a Dainik Jagran banner shrieked that Jallianwala Bagh was being repeated. 'Samba mein dohraya Jallianwala kand'. 'Tiranga laharane walon par hui goliya ki barsat, do shahid, teesre ki halat gambhir'. (Bullets rained on those waving the flag, two martyred, third in serious condition). Three photographs below that including those of the dead, captioning them martyrs.
Three lines of bold text described what had happened the previous day and said SSP Prabhat Singh had taken on the role of General Dwyer. The byline suggested the story had been filed by a stringer in Samba. Jagran city's photographs in the same day's paper vividly captured a charged crowd demonstrating, described slogans of Har har Mahadev, and showed people praying lord Shiva. It underline the point that in the battle for self pride women were in the forefront. 'Swabhiman ke ladayi mein mahilaye bhi aage.'
The next day, August 6 the main paper's headline said Jyowriya mein utara Sambha kand ka gussa' and described people going on rampage. (In Jyowria was shown the anger over Samba) On page 7, another headline: Jo bhi ho zameen lekar rahenge, was interesting. It had no inverted comas. (Whatever happens we will take the land back.) Another one said, this time with inverted commas, 'balidan lekar zameen vapas leni hogi.'
On August 7 the main headline said, Sena se to nahin thi aise umeed. (This was not expected of the army.) It had the picture of another victim whom the paper labeled a martyr. On August 8 too, the paper's 5 column headline said, Band nahin hoga bhoomi andolan. (the agitation for land will not stop.)It was a statement, not attributed to anybody. Rhetorical headlines was the editorial device the paper used to pitch itself on the side of those wanting the land order revocation reversed.
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If one was looking for a voice of sanity, it tended, more often than not, to be the Kashmir Times, published from Jammu.
Throughout the last week of June and through the month of July the Kashmir Times editorialised frequently, sometimes almost every day. It was critical of the PDP's posturing and opportunism, ('A new low in coalition dharma' June 26, 2008) and critical of police violence in the valley as also of the space being created 'for politicians, who thrive on communal politics, n Jammu to come out in opposition to the sentiment in the valley'. ('A wake up call', June 27 2008). On July 2 it pointed a finger at the hate soaked politics of the Sangh Parivar, the BJP included ('Stop petty politicking,') and on July 4th urged civil society in Jammu to come out of their shells because there was an immediate need to douse the flames of regional and communal hatred. ('Sanity should prevail', July 4, 2008). On July 10, 2008 its editorial 'Falling in the trap' looked back at why Jammu had succumbed to a whipped up frenzy and concluded that the Governor of the State was squarely to blame.
It is believed that tempers in Jammu flared up as a consequence of what is deemed as fundamentalist thrust in Kashmir Valley and that the entire reaction was spontaneous. This is far from truth. The notion of an agitation with communal overtones in the Valley itself is an unjustified claim. The genesis of the Kashmir protests lay in several factors like environment issues and more importantly the question of transferring land to the Shrine Board, headed by a non-citizen of the state. Essentially, it was a political question and stemmed from gradual provocation from the Shrine Board chairman and the former Governor Gen. S.K. Sinha, starting from his bid to deprive the Muslims of their role in a pilgrimage, which had a secular tradition for years, to his unreasonable proposals of occupying forest land in the name of providing facilities for pilgrims. The latter could have been done without the insistence of having full control over the land. Clearly, the defiance of the governor in providing any transparent accounts of the Board's functioning, his repeated insistence on going to the extent of preparing proposals for taking over the entire tourism of Pahalgam and Sonamarg were things that raised serious doubts in the minds of the common Kashmiris.
Commentary by outside writers carried by the Kashmir Times ran the gamut of views. Praful Bidwai writing on July 14 ('The Amarnath crisi takes its toll') while observing that there was no heroes, only villains in the entire SASB land transfer drama named the former Governor Lt Gen S K Sinha as the greatest villain of them all. But he added that Hurriyat leaders and JKLF chief Yasin Malik helped to give a religious-communal colour to the issue by falsely depicting the land transfer as a means of forcibly settling Hindus in the Valley and an assault on the Kashmiri identity.
Balraj Puri ('Why Jammu burns after Kashmir burnt' July 7,2008) a Jammu-based analyst pointed out that Jammu's longstanding political discontent just needed a flashpoint to explode. And trouble in Kashmir started at a time when there was confusion and demoralisation in the separatist camp. There was a political dynamics to the manner in which events unfolded in both Jammu and the valley. In another article later that month in Rising Kashmir he traced the political discontent and the feeling of discrimination that had been building up in Kashmir over the last sixty years referring on occasion to his own personal interventions in that history. ('Root cause of Jammu flare-up' July 30, 2008)
A Kashmir Times editorial on July 30 ('Jammu's unending ordeal') lamented the brutality and violence the agitationists were spawning. 'The uncivilised ways of expressing anger, intolerance and communalism is not the heritage of Jammu.' Another, ('Provocative action') condemned police firing on protestors.
The Excelsior harped on communal intent not at all.
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The view from Kashmir of the mayhem in Jammu was sometimes bitter.
Kashmiri writers tended to underscore the hospitality and humanity of Kashmiris, the tradition of looking after yatris all these years. And the fact that their own protest under the land transfer was not communally coloured. ('Protest 'justified'', Greater Kashmir, August 3, 2008).
They were also quick to point out the double standards the Central and State administration were displaying. ('The real face of Delhi/Pat Jammu, Kill Kashmir', Thoughtful Thought, August 17, 2008, Greater Kashmir.)
Two senior officers of the State government are reportedly responsible for ordering the troopers not to harm the Jammu agitators even if they cause damage to the public property. Having been let loose to play havoc with everything coming in their way, the rioters therefore felt comfortable to set fire to a police station, mosques and attack Muslims murderously in Rajouri, Poonch and Kishtwar. The police and the CRPF watched this rape of humanity with a mischievous smile on their lips.
And it is here in Kashmir, that peaceful and unarmed people while trying to find out an alternate way to have medicines for their patients, milk for children and food for themselves, are treated as animals and killed in scores with impunity.
We may ask: how come that only a few persons were killed in the violent-agitation in Jammu which continued for about two months with unprecedented hooliganism. But here in Kashmir; more than 30 innocent civilians were shot dead only in two days, 11,12 August, by the Indian troopers. Even ambulances carrying dead bodies were not spared by the trigger-happy forces. Besides this massacre, the army and paramilitary forces set ablaze several houses, beat up inmates and went to the extent of brutality that their own bamboo sticks were seen breaking into pieces while beating Muslim youth like barbarians. Live coverage of this brutality was repeatedly shown by local as well as embedded Indian private TV channels.
A page one anchor in GK on August 5 used the slug Double Standard for its news analysis. The story was headlined, 'In Jammu employees join agitation: in Kashmir they are framed.' And it read, In a sharp contrast to Kashmir, where government employees are booked and penalized for being part of the any agitation and the protesters of recent mass uprising are booked under various charges and FIRs lodged against them in various police stations, the employees of Jammu district today went on mass casual leave in support of the violent agitation launched by the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti, in the process, exposing the government's double standards.
On July 25 a Kashmiri based in Rawalpindi wrote a three column edit page piece in GK comparing the government's patronage of the Shree Amarnath Shrine Board with its attitude to and treatment of the Jammu Kashmir Waqf Board and Waqf Council. Among other things, the government in Jammu had encroached upon Waqf lands, the article said.
Rising Kashmir, editorialising on August 1, ('Jammu agitiation') also compared the different ways in which the protests against a government order were conducted in Jammu and in Kashmir. Jammu's protest turned communal, it said, Kashmir's never did. But in Kashmir people faced direct fire, whereas in Jammu police never resorted to direct fire.
Urdu newspapers in Kashmir also sought to differentiate the sentiments behind the agitation in Kashmir from those in Jammu. Wrote the Srinagar Times in an editorial titled ' Woh tehreek aur yeh tehreek ' (That agitation and this agitation), on July 28:
The allotment of land to the shrine board lead to an agitation in Kashmir. The call for this strike/agitation was not given by any party but was directly linked to the feelings and emotions of the people (Shrine board ko di gayi arazi ke mamle par kashmeer mai tehreel chali. Is ka call kisi party ne nahi diya tha . yeh logon ki tehreek thy ya is ka barahe rast taluq logon ke jazbaat aur ahsaasat se tha)
Amarnath yatra has always been there. Before the partition most of the yatris used to take the Muzaffarabad road. Yatra was done by Hindus but it was Muslims who would do the necessary arrangements of them .(Amarnath yatra hamesha se hoty aa rahi hai , taqseem mulq se pehle yatriyon ki zyada taidaad muzaffarabad se aati thy. Yatra hindu karte they lekin yatra ka intizaam aur ahtimam musalmaan karte they).
In fact without the cooperation of the local Muslims this yatra would not be possible and would not reach its completion. Kashmiri people protested the decision of allotting 800 kanal land to the shrine board authorities. During these protests whatever untoward incidents happened, it is the police that is responsible for it. It is because of their firing and shooting that some people lost their lives.(Haqeeqat yeh hai ki is yatra ka taqmeel pazeer hona namumkin nahi hai agar makaami musalmaan inko muktalif tareeqon se mehfooz na rakhein .Kashmiri musalmanon ne shrine board ko 800 kanal zameen den eke khilaaf ahtijaaj kiya , ehtijaaj ke doraan job hi gadbad huvi is ke liye police ki jabar wa zyadti zimedaar hai , police ki goliyon se kuch log apni jaan kho bethe)
Since last five days Jammu is witnessing some fierce agitation as well and it is being supported by the Hindu sectarians. Their demand is that the disputed land should be allotted o the Amarnath Shrine Board. Parties like BJP, Shivsena and Bajrang Dal are supporting them. (Jammu mai pichle paanch roz se zabrdast agitation chal rahi hai jis ki rehnumai hindu firqa pasand tanzeemo ke leader kar rahe hain . in ka mutalba hai ki shrine board kodi gayi zameen ki allotment ki mansookihi ka government ka faisla la'ad kiya jaye . in firqa parst partyon mai BJP , Shivsaina aur bajrang dal pesh hain,
Kashmiri Muslims are being asked to leave Jammu and are being threatened that they should cross over to Banihal at the earliest and if they don't they will have to bear with serious consequences. Offices of PDP and National conference are being attacked and ransacked. The national highway has been barricaded at many places and vehicles have been stopped from running. (kashmiri musalmanon se kaha jaraha hai ki who jammu se chale jayein , kashmiri dukandaar, mazdooron aur mulazimon ko dhamkiyan di jarahi hai ki agar who fori taur par bistara gole karke Banihal ke is paar chale na jaye to in ki khiar nahi. PDP aur national conference ke workers aur daftaron par hamle huve. Jammu srinagar qaumi shehra ke mukhtalif makamaat par dharne laga kar gadiyon ki amad wa raft ko roka jar aha hai.
On the same issue the reaction of the two regions is so different.(ek hi mamle par riyasat ke do soobon ki agitation ka mizaj ek doosre se mukhtalif hai) Kashmiris want that the land should not be allotted and the Jammuites want that the land should be granted to the shrine board. It is the hindu sectarians who are encouraging these people and whose speeches are full of communal poison. (Kashmir mai shrine board ko de gayi zameen is se wapas lene ka mutalba huva , jammu mai is zameen ki wapsi ke liy ehangama aarai ho rahi hai.national conference aur PDP ke daftaron par humle ho rahe hain Jammumai shrine board se li gayi zameen par ishtiaal angeziya firqa parst leadron ki taraf se ho rahi hai. In ki taqreeron ka lab wa lehja intihai zehreela hai).
Urdu translations by Shazia Salam