Prejudice about Kashmir

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While silence of the national media on the Handwara killings didn’t come as a surprise, it only became a little more stark this time after the hysterical focus on the police lathi-charge on out-station students at NIT. For once, a clear distinction was made between “ours” and the “others”. But it still didn’t matter as in the ultimate analysis the approach to the incidents in Kashmir was along predictable lines. We know civilian killings in Kashmir don’t resonate much with the Indian public opinion. And with media too, it is the prejudice that rules the roost on Kashmir. 

What was, however, a little difficult to accept was the way the Indian intelligentsia spoke about Kashmir and the killings in the state. The debate, for one, was not about the killings of the five people – four youth and the one elderly woman – but about the alleged molestation of a minor girl. And here too, the question was not whether the molestation had taken place or not, but how untrue the incident was. All this just because girl, her face uncovered, had given a video statement in police custody that she was not molested. This was taken as a gospel truth. And from this understanding followed the logical inference that Kashmiris had invited the harsh security response by protesting over a lie. The mother’s testimony – also on video and not under police custody – didn’t matter.
So the five killings were attributed to a root cause: a violent protest over a false allegation. Really? But then everything has a root cause.

NIT controversy too had a root cause: the clashes over cricket matches between local and outstation students has had a long history at the college and never did it become an issue.  But you never brought this root cause into play in the frenzied television discussions on NIT. The focus was single-mindedly on some lathi blows on a few students. But in case of Handwara, the accent on confusion over the molestation bid of the minor girl was preferred over the focus on the killings. This position not only diluted the killings but also sought to justify them.

This is what Rajdeep Sardesai, one of India’s top journalists,  tweeted on Handwara: “Kashmir remains in a twilight zone where fact and rumour merge: all stakeholders need to handle with care”.  This almost implied that both molestation and the killings had taken place in an environment of deceit and treachery. Even if we buy into this dubious formulation, then everything about the incident except the killings of the five people is suspect. But none of the top journalists will talk about this uncomfortable fact. An open letter by Chetan Bhagat, India’s writer of entertaining novels  for the youth is another extreme: Bhagat makes no mention of the five killings in his letter to “dear Kashmiri friends”. But he embarks on a long-winding and factually challenged sermon to Kashmiri youth. The premises of his argument are troubling and tacky. He justifies “collateral damage” as if Handwara killings were a result of the militant attack on Army and the youth had died as a result.

Let alone government of India, this kind of jaundiced view on Kashmir by India’s so called intellectual class is  disquieting, to put it mildly. For the people who otherwise are expected to champion a reasoned discussion on Kashmir seem to be buying into the reigning popular prejudice on Kashmir. How can you now expect the twain – New Delhi and Kashmir – to ever meet and engage to heal and clean up the political swamp that is Kashmir.

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