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Monday Review

MEDIA MADNESS

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It is an odd habit and yet he can’t keep from turning on the television while he sits down to eat his dinner; this despite the fact that watching the television news would leave a bad taste in his mouth while he savors hi meal. Still, Aamir Rafiq, a student of journalism, like tens of thousands of people in the Kashmir valley, finds it hard to fight off the temptation of tuning in to the television news broadcast from New Delhi. They know the direction the debates usually take on these channels: vituperative, abusive anchors and a cohort of their guests making Kashmiris feel as if they were criminals guilty of crimes of which there is no comparison in the world.

On a recent evening Amir sat down to watch a debate on one of the channels and in no time the drift of the debate was clear to him. The anchor and his guests were debating the “terror funding” in Kashmir, a cue they got from a recent ‘sting’ by another ‘news’ channel on some ‘pro-freedom’ leaders. As Amir watched, his anger could be easily gauged. In the middle of an argument, one of the panelists pointed out to the “red cheeks” of Kashmiris as being one of the signs of being funded by Pakistan.

“Half of the time, Kashmir is on bandh, half of the time there is lock-down, still there is no case of malnutrition or farmer suicide, I want to ask how do they manage, every body’s cheeks there are so red,” said one Major Arya, an army man who posed as an expert panelist on Kashmir.

Hearing this, Aamir shouted in fury.“What the hell is this madman talking about, is he in his senses!” frowned Aamir as he followed up with a few more expletives. He, however, kept on watching the show giving his own reasons for it:“Why I watch it? One it is fun and two it shows you the real way Indians think about Kashmir and us”.“Shut-up debate” as Aamir called it, has most of the times anchor shutting up those who go against his viewpoint in ‘debates’ which nowadays are directly about, or in one way or another referring to Kashmir.

As a Kashmiri viewer of such debates, Aamir finds himself a party to them. He frowns with the anti-Kashmir, anti-Muslim rhetoric and equally feels the excitement when some ‘pro-Kashmiri’ panelist is successful in peeving the opposite parties.

One might not be too bothered by what goes on in the studios of the various television news channels, all you need to do is to keep away from watching it. What alarms you though is when the tone of the television debates finds resonance in the policy that New Delhi advocates for Kashmir and it becomes clear in the Kashmir valley that it was anchors and panelists of television news shows who push the government to take a particular line on Kashmir.

The intensity with which the Indian media has been chasing Kashmir, almost every issue and non-issue in it, and the way the government of India has been following up on it is worrisome. For example, the “terror fund” debate that annoyed Aamir, and almost every Kashmiri who watched it, was on recent raids carried out by National Investigation Agency (NIA). The raids were a reflex to the ‘sting operation’ carried out on a few Hurriyat members.

The ‘sting’ done by India Today, a channel more known for its masala reports than journalism, showed separatist leaders Nayeem Khan, Bitta Karate, and Gazi Baba in some undisclosed location in New Delhi talking about how they received money to “fuel the unrest” in Kashmir.Soon after the video was released, the Centre pulled up its NIA team of 25 members who went on raiding dozens of places in Kashmir, Jammu, Haryana and other locations.Aamir, like thousands of other Kashmiris saw the sting video. And like many others he too picked some basic problems with it.

“Firstly the ‘sting’ seemed shaky, like several videos shot at several times put together. Also the Hurriyat guys shown in the video wore woollen clothes suggesting it was shot in winter months; if it was so important a scoop, why was it then released months later in May?” questioned Aamir.
However, for the people in the power corridors of New Delhi, these questions seemed irrelevant. They, on the contrary, found the ‘sting’ as enough of a ‘proof’ to let loose the NIA sleuths, who raided multiple locations for several days.The known outcome of these raids, so far, has not been anything substantial even as the NIA claims to scrutinize the electronic gadgets it seized during the raids.

Weeks after the NIA raids, the hyper anchors and self-styled experts were still ‘debating’ the “funding from Pakistan”, irking Aamir and thousands of other Kashmiris like him.While the drama continued, Aamir also referred to ‘India Today’.“India Today, have you watched it? One of its female anchors can give a good competition to Arnab when it comes to shouting on screen,” Aamir joked.The one Aamir referred to is Anjana Om Kashyap designated as ‘Editor Special Projects’ with TV Today Network.Interestingly, most of her ‘special projects’ surround Kashmir.In May, during the countless follow-ups on their Hurriyat ‘sting’, Anjana seemed to have taken everything so personally that it was hard to decipher between her kitchen rant and the so-called national interest she claimed to speak for.

In another such ‘special project’ she was anchoring on primetime last month, the India Today anchor was miffed on how some ‘Islamic’ channels broadcasted in Kashmir were triggering fundamentalism and anti-India sentiment?“For years now, dozens of Pakistani channels spitting venom against India are being watched in Kashmir, no one has questioned their broadcast, could their anti-India and fundamentalist stand be the cause of the terrorism that Kashmir is struggling with….? That is the question we ask in this hour…,” her last few words powered by all the wry facial expressions she must have ever learnt.
The question of ‘Pakistani channels’ was actually raised by a story done a few days earlier by a major Indian newspaper, thereby tipping off the news channels.‘Pakistani, Saudi channels beam into Kashmiri homes, stoke azadi rage’: This story done by ‘Times of India’ on May 05, postulated that whatever wrong was happening in Kashmir was due to the airing of channels which promoted “anti-India”, “fundamentalist” and “Salafist” thoughts in the region.

The journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh claimed in the story that there were “over 50 Saudi and Pakistani channels, including Zakir Naik’s banned PEACE TV preaching Salafist Islam, and others indulging in anti-India propaganda were running without necessary clearances via private cable networks in Kashmir”.
To substantiate the claim, Tikoo quoted some Shahid (did not give out his full name), an ‘Islamic scholar’ from Anantnag saying: “It (airing of salafist channels) is radicalising youth and adding fuel to the violent separatist movement that is being mobilised by invoking Islam. Wahhabism has stoked Islamist extremism and terrorism across the world.”
Even as an ardent watcher of such shows, Aamir told The Kashmir Monitor how ridiculous the claim sounded to him when he read the story and saw the debate.“It seems they don’t want us to live in peace. Why else would they try to make issues out of nothing?” he said while referring to the channel debate he had watched last month.“I don’t think half of Kashmiris have even heard the names of some of these channels. Besides, a few of them only telecast music and sports, how on earth would they ‘radicalise’ me,” his frustration clearly showed as he spoke.

If it would have been referring to any other place, the Times of India ‘channel story’ would have had barely a few days of shelf life, as happens with most such stories written for dailies. However, not when it mentioned Kashmir and also claimed to find the ‘real reason’ of the problem, a reason that conformed to those in power.And like Aamir, most Kashmiris already knew that.Not waiting for the second day, the same evening the story was published, the government of India reacted. All pumped up ToI did the follow up the next day: ‘Rein in J&K cable firms illegally beaming Saudi, Pakistani news channels, says government’.

The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry in an official order directed the J&K Chief Secretary B.B Vyas to take action against the cable operators and even “confiscate the equipment”.A day later, the J&K government asked the all deputy commissioners of the state to take action against transmission of 34 TV channels, including those from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, saying they have the “potential to incite violence and create law and order situation”.
No questions, no ground analysis to double check whether or not what was claimed had any semblance of truth. A few of the 34 channels, which formed a part of the banned list, as Aamir rightly pointed out, included some sports as well as music channels, leaving a lot scratching their heads.
Banning the channels is another recent example of the government of India’s knee-jerk reaction to its media reports on Kashmir. Unusual even for the political conflict it is, the vehement desk-reportage, questioning almost everything happening in the valley, shows how the Indian media has startedreporting their own whims and assumptions.Yet another example of media triggered decisions on Kashmir is the hyped up security measures for the forthcoming Amarnath Yatra.However, Aamir had not realised it yet.

“They are not debating it that much, so I guess that is way I missed it,” he replied when told how, for months now, a series of print stories by national media outlets quoting anonymous ‘security officials’ claimed that “stone pelters and militants were the biggest threat to the pilgrimage which is to start from June 29.“I think they will rake-up the issue on these channels when the Yatra is about to start for the government of India to react.”Aamir, however, did not know that they had already reacted.The repeated reportage had led the Union home Ministry hold an emergency meet on May 23, acknowledging the ‘threat’. They decided to deploy 27,000 troopers along the Yatra route.

“There are equal threats from militants and stone-throwers. All threats are being taken care of,” Adviser in the Ministry Ashok Prasad then said.Reacting to the hyperbole, the State Police Chief SP Vaid too held a high level meeting last week with police and other paramilitary forces discussing the security arrangements for the upcoming Yatra.“Fool proof security arrangements should be put in place for the routes and the base camps to ensure safety of the pilgrims. The deployment and security of the vulnerable areas should be strengthened to thwart any mischief by the anti-national elements and the militants. Enhanced Paramilitary deployment should be made,” DGP Vaid directed the officers.

The perception of fear was generated even as the past remains testimony of how the Yatra was never affected due to the Kashmir situation. In fact, militants in many of their videos have vouched for the safety of the pilgrims making one wonder wherefrom was the ‘threat’ perceived by the Indian media.As if this was not enough, the Indian media now seems to have set its eyes on banning the internet in the valley, or at least in south of Kashmir during the 40-day Yatra period. Why else would a leading news agency of India come up with a story like this: “‘Bedroom Jihadis’: New problem for Kashmir’s security agencies.”

The story dated June 02 was carried by most news portals and ranted about on news channels.
An excerpt from the story tells how it overtly wants to gag whatever remaining communication is available to the people of Kashmir.“After years of fighting armed terrorists with bullets and brickbats, security agencies in Jammu and Kashmir are now facing a new enemy – ‘bedroom jihadis’ who manipulate social media from the comfort of their homes to spread rumours and influence youths. An immediate worry for security agencies is the Amarnath Yatra that starts June 29. Armed with access to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, there are fears that the new band of jihadis could instigate communal riots in the Valley ahead of the 40-day pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.”
The story, like most such stories, quotes anonymous police official to substantiate its claim. It would not be surprising if government of India, in the backdrop of this story, comes with another order of banning internet during the Yatra period in the entire valley or in the districts through which the yatris pass through.
Media experts, working journalists in Kashmir, and even young men like Aamir, see the negative impact of the Indian media’s handling of Kashmir.Experts, however, say that the trend of media-triggered decisions on Kashmir is nothing new and has been used as a “favourite tool” by those in power.

“Indian media has always done that. In Kashmir, partial reportage favouring the Indian state and opposing the realities has been the rule for the Indian media; a balanced, objectivity reportage has been a rare exception,” says Danish Zargar, a working journalist who has earned his doctorate specifically in national media’s reportage on Kashmir in 1990s.“They have done it all through ’90s and afterwards, and the practice continues. Only that their biased, or even misleading, reporting is now becoming more common and an accepted form of journalism in India. I believe if Indian media played its role more professionally vis-a-vis Kashmir, the realities may have been different. Because, they have ensured that the people of India see Kashmir as nothing more than a proxy war and Kashmiris as enemies,” he says.

A senior journalist who once worked as a correspondent for a leading national news channel recalls how his attempts to report the real on-ground facts and situation were met with disappointment after his Delhi Bureau misrepresented the truth.“It was 2009, we were reporting the Shopian rape and murder case. I faced severe opposition from the Delhi bureau when I tried to report the villager’s claims of Indian forces raping and murdering the two young women from Shopian. My editor was miffed on my reportage and kept on pressuring me to rather report that the women drowned (the state version) in a stream with hardly a feet of water,” the senior journalist, who eventually left the channel, told The Kashmir Monitor.
The People’s Democratic Party, the regional ally of BJP, even being a party to many of the decisions triggered by the media reportage, too believes that the national media is adversely affecting the current Kashmir situation.Recently, State Minister of Education Altaf Bukhari was vocal about how a few national broadcast channels were hell-bent on “putting Kashmir on fire”. He was reacting to claims made by ‘Republic TV’ that NIA raided Mushtaq Chaya, a known hotelier of Kashmir whereas the reality was that no such raids were made.

“Please allow us to live peacefully. We want peace here. But some news channels want to put Kashmir on fire. They are not showing true picture about the valley,” he said.Similarly in an interview with Indian Express, J&K Minister for Roads and Buildings, Naeem Akhtar said that his party was convinced that television channels in Delhi and Mumbai were doing “irreparable harm to us than anything else currently”.
Naeem claimed that the state government was considering “serious action” against these channels. “Because it is these television channels and their studio warriors who have become a serious threat to peace and normality in Kashmir,” he added.
To point out, the current media war in Kashmir is waged at a time when the region is experiencing its second straight year of public dissent. Akin to last year, the series of civilian killings, injuries have continued for the first half of this year too. The situation has been made worse by blocking communication channels multiple times in the last six months. Besides, a wave of student protests has also been a feature of the public protests showing how volatile the situation is in the valley.In all of this, the Indian media’s biased reportage has been one of the prime reasons of keeping the pot boiling making Aamir and most other Kashmiris wonder where would the drama head in near future.


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Monday Review

The Cuckoo’s nest

Mudassir Kuloo

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SRINAGAR: We all must have seen the Bollywood flick ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. For those who haven’t, the story is about a small Pakistan girl who suffers from speech impediment. To find a miraculous cure, her mother takes her to a Dargah in India. Unfortunately, the girl is left behind on her way back to Pakistan. Enter our hero who makes a point to reunite her with the family and travels across boundaries in his bid, fighting soldiers and doing comedy… All in all, the movie seems too good to happen in real world.

But while you are pondering on it, here in Kashmir something similar has been happening from many years now with hardly any talk about it.

At Srinagar’s Psychiatric Hospital, a few local and non-local patients who are long cured have been waiting for years now to reunite with their families, whose whereabouts are unknown. Nobody at the hospital knows their real names or the exact place they belong to. As such, the hospital authorities have given the patients new names to identify them and keep their records.

One among them has been mentioned as Jozy in the hospital records and appears like the natives of West Bengal. She would be around 18 years. She according to hospital staff was brought there in January, 2014 by the police. “Police had found her somewhere on the street. After noticing her unusual behavior, she was brought to the hospital. She has shown a huge improvement over the years. We don’t know her real name but everyone calls her Jozy and she too understands that,” a hospital staff member while looking after her in ward No 5 of the hospital said. “She gave some clues about her native village but we are yet to trace her family. We hope one day she will be reunited with her family.”

Similarly, another one has been named Fareeda and is almost the age of Jozy. She too was brought to the hospital by the police in 2013. She speaks a mixed Kashmiri and Pahari dialect. “In her broken words, she is telling something like Drugmul. We guessed that it could be Drugmul Kupwara and contacted some people there but have not been successful in tracing her family so far,” the official said. As per him, both were brought to the hospital in a bad condition. “There has been a huge improvement in their health over the years.”

They may be communicating through words or facial expression, eat on their own and play to each other and assist the other patients but prefer to remain silent to strangers. “For outsiders it may sometimes become difficult to understand them but those who treat, nurse them, understand what they want to say,” the official said.

Dr Arshid Hussain, a psychiaritist, who treats these patients, said these girls are fit to live with the family and can live a normal life. “They responded to the medication very fast but still they need love and affection of their families. We are making all efforts to reunite them with their families,” he said.

In the same ward is a Kashmiri Pandit woman. In her early 40, she hardly speaks to anyone. She was brought to the hospital by Kashmiri Muslims in 1990 after Pandits left the Valley. She too has no connection with her family although they know their daughter is being nursed at the hospital. “Family members occasionally call us to enquire about her but had never come to see her in these 25-years. Her parents told us on the phone that they have full faith on Kashmiris that they will be looking very well after their daughter,” Dr Arshid said.

There is also one male patient whose family is also yet to be traced. He has been named as Rahim Bakerwal, who was brought five years ago to the hospital. He was arrested from Humhama after forces noticed some suspicion about him. After found him mentally ill, he was brought to the hospital. The hospital officials believe that he may be from Rajouri or Poonch area.

The hospital administration has a full faith that they will be able to trace their families one day. Infact, the doctors see it a mission to find their families. Their hopes lie on the fact that earlier too in a similar bid, they have successfully traced out the families of three other patients since 2013, who too had lost connection with their families. “We are making continuous efforts to trace their families so that they get reunited like hospital administration did in the past,” Dr Arshid said.

It was in 2013 when Krader Tripathi, 55, regained his memory and told the name of his native village.

The miracle of reuniting him with his family after 23-years happened following the doctors surfed his village on Google Earth. They finally got in contact with the police station, who then checked the police records and finally conveyed his family. Then Tripathi’s brother and nephew came to Srinagar and took him along to their home. His brother told the hospital staff that the family had thought that Tripathi was dead. “After found him alive, he is second face of Baghwan for us,” he told the doctors. “Had Tripathi been in other state, we would not have traced him. You people have really set up an example that religions have no bonds,” he told a group of hospital staff who had gathered to bid adieu to him.

Even there has been some incidents when some patients by the families after regaining their mental stability. This is what happened with Mathur Bhai Padhiyar of Gujarat when his family was not ready to own him for three years despite knowing he was being nursed at the hospital. He had come along with a group of Gujarati pilgrims to Amarnath cave shrine. After noticing his unusual behaviour, police had brought him to the hospital in 2006.

It was in 2013, Mathur regained his memory and told the name of his village which was then traced through Google Earth. After informing the family, there was no response from their side.

“My papa (Nayim) wife (Madhu) three sisters and a brother will be waiting for my return. Please send me back,” Mathur had said when this reporter met him in 2014. After media highlighted that a Gujarati man regained his memory after seven years, Ghulam Nabi Azad who was then union health minister visited Mathur at the hospital. Azad promised to bear all the expenses needed to shift him to Gujarat. Despite that his family was reluctant to take him home. It was then two years of judicial intervention of District Legal Services Authority that Mathur reunited with his family in April 2016.

Similarly, this year another man from West Bengal was also sent back home who had lost connection with him family and was nursed at the hospital for many years. The doctors too traced his village on the internet and finally he reunited with the family.

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Monday Review

The curious case of Mehran

Mudassir Kuloo

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SRINAGAR: It is over eight years since Mehran, a three-and-a-half-year-old boy, disappeared from outside his home in the old city Srinagar. It is still a mystery how a child like Mehran could just vanish without trace from a place, which is a densely populated area of the city.

His disappearance has not just caused suffering and anguish to his parents and his extended family alone, but it has forced other parents of young children like Mehran to exercise caution to let other children out of their sight.

Mehran’s, went missing on May 13, 2008, the year he was admit to Canny Mission School Court Road Srinagar, where he was studying in pre-nursery.

“His disappearance has shattered our dreams. He was witty among all children in our family,” Mohammad Yusuf Mir, Mehran’s uncle told The Kashmir Monitor.

It was Yusuf, who had brought him to home from school along with his two children, on that fateful day. “I dropped them at home at 2:30 pm then left for my work. At 3:30, we came to know that Mehran was missing,” he said.

According to his uncle, Mehran had insisted to go maternal uncle’s home. His mother accompanied him. “His mother left him there. Later, when Mehran didn’t reach home, they started looking for him but got no clue.”

He was then the sole child of his parents, who are yet to come out of the shock and have been moving from pillar to the post to search for their beloved son. “Prior his missing, we all used to live together. But after Mehran’s missing, his father and mother refused to live here and have shifted to Gojwara. They are yet to come out of the shock. His missing continuously haunting us and has scattered our family,” Yusuf said.

It remains an unsolved mystery even though many investigating agencies including India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI have been probing the case.

In December last year, the family got a call from a CBI officer that Mehran was located in Rajasthan. “My brother, (Mehran’s father) and his maternal uncle went to New Delhi for the identification. After identification, they said that the boy was not Mehran. Mehran was circumcised while the child who the CBI showed was not circumcised,” he said.

The family had filed a missing report on May 13, 2008 with Kral Khud police station police, which investigated the cast for two years. But Yusuf said the police didn’t not take immediate measures to locate him on that fateful day. “We were even denied to search him in Auto rickshaws by making announcement on loudspeakers on the pretext that we may resort to stone pelting. But we continuously searched for him and did not work for 45-days.”

The investigating agencies have failed come up with anything substantial, but some of his family members were “interrogated” by the Crime Branch. “My husband and his brother was interrogated for a month. The police failed to trace our child but the Crime Branch interrogated Mehran’s uncles. We lost everything and our financial condition has also deteriorated,” Mehran’s aunt Masrat said. “Whenever we get to know that any child has been found, we rush there. We once went to Kangan at 10:30 pm when police told that a child was found there.”

The family says that they don’t suspect any one behind his abduction and won’t stop pleading the case. They had protested several times seeking attention of the government to locate him. “We also went to New Delhi, Mumbia to search him,” Yusuf said.

In Kashmir, according to police records, two cases of kidnapping get reported on an average daily in the Valley. According to the official details of police department, 638 kidnapping incidents were reported in 2013 while as police had registered 694 cases of kidnapping in 2012 and almost same number of cases were registered in 2014. Police had registered 471 and 579 cases of abduction in the Valley in year 2008 and 2009 respectively. However, scores of such cases go unreported either due to remoteness of the location or their families failing to follow such cases due to the poverty and also not having photographs to show the police for investigating the matter.

“Many kidnapping cases are still unsolved,” a senior official of Crime Branch said, “Mehran’s case is one of such cases which is still a mystery.” However, he said the CBI was investigating the case after the Crime Branch handed over case to it on directions of the High Court.

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Monday Review

‘VecMania’: Baramulla’s automobile enthusiasts

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Located on the Baramulla-Handwara highway is a glittering Auto Engineering startup which catches eyes of every passerby. “Vecmania Auto Engineering” first of its kind in Kashmir.

Tell us about Vecmania

Vecmania (Vec- vehicles, and Mania-obsession) Auto Engineering is a building brand in Kashmir for petrol heads offering custom modification of bikes and cars. Vecmania was started by three automobile enthusiasts ErfaanKirmani, Aamir Kirmani, and Omar Ayub. We offer individual solutions to individual cases as per customer’s request. Our promise is to deliver top-notch products in valley. Our valley is quite hard to do business in, we all know what is conditions we live in and during those conditions startups suffer alot, we kept that in mind, which led us to a strategy to overcome it. They say people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it and Vecmania is one among those.

Tell us about the working of Vecmania. How do you assemble the parts?

Gone are the days when automobile were just a mode of transport. Today automobile is a lifestyle statement. It is an extension of oneself. Same as what you wear, how you look, how you talk, and an automobile you ride also tells a lot about your personality. We have dedicated national and international partners who supply most of parts, some of them are assembled from factory itself and we have to work on fitting it into module but major parts are assembled at our garage.

How did you raise your capital?

This kind of business needed a heavy Capital: Investment for showroom, investment for garage, investment for products, marketing and payment for employees. Total of 20 lakh capital had to be invested in Vecmania, so we had to approach EDI. Out of overall capital, EDI provided the half, we arranged rest of it from our savings and with help of our families.

How did your family react to your idea?

Ours is not a conservative family. From the beginning we were allowed to take our own decisions and peruse fields of our choice. Throughout the journey they have been our spine. They believed in our idea and even invested in Vecmania. AllhumdulilahVecmania is a new concept in Kashmir and Kashmiries usually take time to absorb something new.

What kind of response you usually get from people?

We had expected maximum Rs 1 lakh sales in the first month but we crossed Rs 2.5 lakh, which was more than double. We literally don’t get time to sit during the working hours as customers keep pouring in. As the customer sets foot into the showroom his face illuminates with a bright smile and that is our satisfaction. Beyond that we are getting number of orders for the kind of safety gear we have been providing. The helmet for example are designed in such a way, the biker loves to wear it all day long. That is the kind of response and it’s satisfying.(Courtesy: Gyawun.com)

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