The Timid Columnists of Kashmir

Niloofar Qureshi

The verdict is out and the scribes of Kashmir have been declared guilty by the JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik for the most ignominious and unpardonable crime a columnist can ever be accused of- that of not calling spade a spade. While this accusation is bound to offend a large section of local scribes as they maintain the highest standards of ethical journalism and in the process constantly run the risk of inviting the wrath of the security forces, the government as well as the militants and their sympathisers. However, the scribes of Kashmir can take heart from the fact that it is not their tribe alone which has betrayed the people of Kashmir, because as per the JKLF chairman, every organisation (including pro-Pakistan separatist groups), body or section of society (with the sole exception of the JKLF) too is equally to be blamed for the sorry state of affairs!

Let us, only for the sake of discussion, accept Malik’s verdict in toto and accept that our scribes are guilty of not following the ethical code of conduct. However, if the columnists of Kashmir are indeed not calling spade a spade as alleged, then either they all happen to be a bunch of incurable morons or that there are some constraints which prevents them from calling spade a spade. However, since the quality of journalism in Kashmir has received widespread recognition and international acclaim, our scribes are certainly no cretins. Thus, if they are indeed guilty of not calling spade a spade, then they could only be doing so due to some constraint. And the JKLF chairman himself has unraveled the mystery of the timid columnist community of Kashmir by saying that they shirk from calling ‘spade a spade’  as they are not ready to take the risk.”

So, are the columnists in Kashmir really cowards who are not ready to take risks? If one goes by the factual data available, then this argument doesn’t seem hold good by any stretch of imagination. Ever since 1989, when militancy erupted in Kashmir, no less than ten journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty, while scores have been injured or subjected to some sort of physical violence or mental torture, both by the security forces and militants. Despite this, they seem to be doing a good job as no one has ever complained that the local scribes have failed to do justice in highlighting the plight of the Kashmiris and their sufferings at the hands of the government, security forces or even the militants. Therefore, our scribes certainly do deserve respect as they have shed more blood as well as suffered far greater physical abuse and mental harassment than the separatist leadership which accuses them of not being ready to take risks!

In Malik’s list of people who indulge in double speak, which as per him has “compounded the problems of people of Jammu and Kashmir the scribes community once again finds mention alongwith intellectuals, leaders, diplomats and civil society members. While I would not be in a position to speak-up for the others, I would certainly defend the tribe of our scribes, who I sincerely feel are being unnecessarily maligned. The JKLF chairman has not elaborated what he considers to be double speak, but one can hazard a guess by taking a cue from his lament that, The (Local) columnists write on India, Pakistan dialogue and forget Kashmiris.

There is no doubt that columnists do write a lot about Indo-Pak dialogue, but is doing so ‘betraying’ the people of Kashmiris? Is the import of Indo-Pak dialogue of no consequence to the Kashmiris? It is indeed ironical that while the separatists themselves unanimously agree that the Kashmir problem can only be resolved through dialogue and never tire of talking on this subject, yet they fault the media if it does likewise. Correct me if I am wrong, but to the best of my knowledge, there has never been an occasion when writing about Indo-Pak dialogue has ever been at the cost of overlooking the implications of the parleys for the people of Kashmir. Nor has the media ever gone overboard by acting as a public relation agency to promote any party- on the contrary, it has always put New Delhi and Islamabad in the dock by highlighting how the K issue was consistently being assigned to the backburner!

How can one ever accuse the local scribes of not writing about the problems being faced by the Kashmiris? Has the JKLF chairman forgotten that it was the media that brought the issue of unmarked graves to the notice of the world? And what about the infamous Kunan-Poshpura case? For over two decades, while all the separatists did was to indulge in its annual ritual of issuing hartal calls, the local media took up the issue with such fever that it forced the authorities to re-open the case. And when the interlocutors came calling, the separatists conveniently shut themselves up and it was only the local media which highlighted the futility of the whole exercise. Again, when the interlocutor’s report came out, all the separatists did was to outrightly reject the same and it was only the local media which painstakingly analysed the report threadbare and highlighted its shortcomings!

While the separatists confine themselves to their one point agenda of championing their own brand of azadi, it is the local media, which is faithfully discharging its social responsibility by exposing the rampant corruption in the State. Be it the spurious drugs scam, money for admissions case, adulteration in edible items, or even diversion of government funds, the media has extensively covered them all, forcing the authorities to atleast take notice. And unlike the separatists who only make passing references regarding the social ills which are afflicting our society and conveniently absolve themselves of any responsibility for their rectification by ascribing this to grand conspiracy theories, it is the media which has taken-up the alarming issue of declining moral values, awakening the people and reminding them of their moral and social responsibilities for stemming this rot by emphasising that this is a duty that society just cannot afford to abdicate.

To see fault in others while finding none in oneself, is common human tendency. The scribes in Kashmir may not measure up to the expectations of the JKLF chairman, but then that is altogether another issue. Therefore, when scribes who are working under extremely difficult as well as unfavourable conditions and doing a good job are belittled, it really hurts. The element of uncertainty and the fear of the unknown can get the better of even the best and as scribes express their inner thoughts as well as give frank opinions, they do not know whom they may inadvertently offend in the process. And since the JKLF chairman himself admits that the job of a scribe in Kashmir entails an inherent risk, one needs to realise that the line demarcating bravery and foolhardiness’ is extremely blurred. Therefore, if Malik wants our scribes to be more forthcoming, then rather than subject them to pillory, he would do better to help in creating an environment which readily accommodates viewpoints and opinions irrespective of the fact that they may appear good, bad or even ugly!

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