The luxury of lazy thinking: Why Barkha Dutt is off the mark on Kashmir reporting

In a recent Washington Post article, ​well-known Indian journalist ​Barkha Dutt railed against what she called the “living hell vs. happy place” narrative that seem​s​ to dominate rec​e​nt news reporting on Kashmir. She ​informs the reader ​that she has been ​relaying news from Kashmir for 25 years​,​ so knows a thing or two about issues in Kashmir. Fair enough – we cannot take her Kashmir experience away from her – and good for her too​ to having engaged with Kashmir for such a long time​!

When I read her appeal ​for a need to attend to​ context and historicity wh​ile framing the current crisis in Kashmir, I was for a moment pleased and lo​o​ked forward to an informed ​writeup that would bring in hitherto unexamined facets from Kashmir’s history and provide a comprehensive context to the current goings-on. However, I was met with only disappointment on this count. For​,​ Barkha does not reach back into some decades-​old (or even centuries old)​ history of Kashmir to situate the current state of affairs, but only as far back as 2016, during and after the death of Burhan Wani. Barkha informs us​ that even following that event, , there was a telecommunications blackout in the valley​ – ​for nearly a 100 days, according to her.

Strangely enough, what seems to irk Barkha in the inaccurate reporting she takes issue with​,​ is the fact that each report by foreign journalists (and a few left-leaning Indian journalists, she slips in) ​on the ​current affairs characterizes the Kashmir situation as “unprecedented.” That fills Barkha with horror – for she claims she knows that the current state in Kashmir is not unprecedented and therefore not something that a) we, the audience should ​not be taken in by and be appaled; rather we should see them as something that has precedent (and so assuage our outrage​), or 2) merits a doomsday like, alarmist coverage.

The context that she puts forward that would make for a more accurate reporting is not entirely an unfamiliar one – but a little unexpected from a so-called leading journalist, who also has long experience in Kashmir to boot. She adduces the specter of terrorists, who, she claims, view Kashmir as a religious issue and who also recruit children into their ranks and encourage them to pelt stones at the the Indian army and police. Then there is the Pakistani-sponsored cross-border terrorism that she adds to the context she finds missing.

The obvious problem here is the easy acceptance of categories like terrorist, separatist, militancy etc.  Barkha conveniently plays into the nationalist narrative, which is a little surprising again given that she is often taunted by the nationalists.

To provide proper context, as Barkha urges, one would need a much deeper engagement with Kashmir’s history of conflict, political manipulation, oppression, human rights abuses and resistance – and not just from the time of Burhan Wani. And that is what, Barkha ironically, fails to do.

Israel, and many Israeli citizens think of all Palestinians as terrorists and suicide bombers. Even though many Palestinians have distanced themselves from outfits like Hamas and Hezbollah, yet they are all in for collective punishment. For many Indians, Bhagat Singh, Khudiram Bose, Madan Lal Dhingra et al were freedom fighters but for the British they were terrorists. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years for conspiring to overthrow the state. Which is not to condone acts of terror and those considered inimical by states, but all activities, including those marked as “terror” have contexts. Besides, while the involvement of youth and children is to be righly protested, children as protestors form a significant part of the Palestinian resistance – and the Israeli specifically target children, incarcerating them in droves. And if one has to dig a little deeper, children were recruited into resistance groups in the fight against the Nazis during World War II by many of the Allies. Nothing makes it right, but it certainly is good to have context and historicity.

Barka seems to trust the official line from a government official in Kashmir who basically tells her that the current complete lockdown has been implemented incorporating lessons from the 2016 incidents following Burhan Wani’s death, and that they “…decided to protect lives, [even if] some liberties may have to be compromised.” Significanly, missing in her piece are Kashmiri voices of the people – and what they think about all the context and historicity she notes.

Significantly, it is not just Barkha who comments on the divergence in the two narratives between that of the local press and that of the foreign press. Krishna Prasad, former Editor-in-Chief, ‘Outlook’ magazine, writing in The Hindu, also comments on the same issue, but he is more concerned with the capitulation of the Indian media to state narrative: “In the ‘Brave New World’ of Kashmir, the Indian state has worked out the Huxleyan circuitry of how to make the media relay a unitary message without explicitly making it appear so. Therefore, a scarcity of dissent in spite of a plethora of evidence.”

​More than context and historicity, what Barkha herself misses ​is an understanding and all-round analysis of the current situation – how the  constitutional agreements (e.g. Article 370) was abrogated in secrecy without taking the people of Kashmir into confidence, how immediately after the abrogation the state imposed its totalitarian clampdown without bothering to provide any proper explanation to the people. If, as Barkha (believingly) quotes the state official, the action was done to save lives, and in effect for the “good of the people,” do they not deserve to be told this and have their doubts quelled? None of such steps were taken. The Kashmiris have been treated as “hostiles,” to use an Americanism and unworthy of being consulted with. At least there was a overt reason for the clampdown in 2016 – the visible unrest that was claiming lives. But what was the rationale in 2019 – even though none was publicly provided? Maybe nothing with Kashmir is unprecedented: they’ve probably seen it all. Yet, each event wherein the basic rights of Kashmiris are trampled upon without as much as a by your leave has to be reported taking into account all dimensions: of injustice, of hardship and suffering, of anger, of humiliation, of confusion – and certainly with as much context and historicity as possible. This would make for better reporting.

Ananda Maitreya is a Delhi-based writer and a student of social movements. He has been involved in various struggles of the marginalized people, including Dalit and Adivasi movements and the Palestinian struggle.

Courtesy: Counter Current



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