Its been a week since the scrapping of Article 370 was announced by Home Minister Amit Shah. What we saw and heard on mainstream media was celebrations all over the country for this “historic” decision. Amidst all this, there was no news of Kashmir or voices of Kashmiris outside the valley. The state turned Union territory was under lockdown. All means of communication such as mobile connectivity, telephone lines, internet, and cable television were cut off. People in the region had no idea what has caused this recent clampdown. The most militarized region in the world was further barricaded, cordoned and 46000 troops stationed before centre scrapped the region of its autonomy in a surprise move.
It will be 10 days tomorrow that any local newspaper was published in Kashmir, the last local newspapers were on the 4th of August 2019. Even the Indian journalists in the region were not allowed to get press passes and were prohibited from taking pictures. The only way for any news to come off outside Kashmir is through the footage released by the government sources which claimed that everything is normal in Kashmir and the security beef-up is for people ́s own safety. A couple of journalistic voices started trickling down a few days after the clampdown. There were reports of anger among people, food and medicine scarcity, trouble with medical emergency services, people having to spend hours for a distance of a few kilometers. Doordarshan was reinstated after 3 days. But the mainstream media showed photos of few roads with government vehicles movement as a state of “normalcy”.
Two days after the announcement, National security advisor Ajit Doval lands in Kashmir to assess the security situation in the state, and the photos and video of him eating biryani with the locals were put on a 24/7 loop in all mainstream media to highlight the supposed “calm” and “normalcy” in Kashmir despite the withdrawal of special status and its statehood; Kashmiris were happy!
Seeing such “normal” conditions and happy Kashmiris, the opposition leader and ex-chief minister of J &K, Ghulam Nabi Azad, decided to see for himself, but he was stopped at Srinagar airport and sent back to New Delhi. Same happened the day after when CPI-M leaders Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja were also prevented from entering Srinagar and detained at the airport.
Meanwhile, everyday drone photos and videos of streets of J &K were being circulated by officials in New Delhi showing open markets, crowded streets, few mosques open before Eid. Many news channels even went ahead with saying that section 144 is not imposed in the valley.
And “All is Well” in Kashmir! Not really…
Meanwhile, on 8th August, The Wire ́s editor Siddharth Vardarajan released footage from a hospital in Kashmir speaking to patients with pellet gun eye injuries. Some said they were shot during protests in the city’s downtown area while others said they were targeted by the security forces even though there was no protest or stone pelting going on at the time. He was also told that every day there are protests all over the valley. On 9th August, NDTV reported that there were some protests in Kargil against the 370 scrapping, and that there is still lockdown and curfew in many areas.
New York Times reported- On Friday afternoon after the Friday prayers, tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators were moving through the streets of Srinagar, chanting freedom slogans and waving Kashmiri flags, when Indian forces opened fire.
It also reported about heavy deployment at every corner of the valley. In some villages, even remote ones, a soldier was posted outside the gate of each family’s home. Some soldiers have also commented that “people are very angry and not scared” and have admitted to stone-pelting incidents. Amidst the shutdown, a few local papers have resorted to pen and paper to report, and are printing with old hulking machines with 1-2 page newspapers.
The next day, BBC released exclusive footage showing massive protests, bordering on violence, after evening prayers on Friday in Soura, Srinagar contradicting Central government’s claims that all is well in there.
Al Jazeera, Washington Post, and Reuters also reported of mass protests in Kashmir on Friday post prayers ignoring the curfew, and firing of tear gas and shooting in the air to disperse the crowd.
The Indian government, not too happy about the unfavorable reporting about the shutdown and protests in international media at first denied by accusing BBC, Al- Jazeera and Reuters of spreading fabricated videos of violence. Some of the popular Indian media channels” acted as government propaganda machines and put allegations on BBC and Al Jazeera reporting as part of an international conspiracy.
As per the latest news, yesterday, Ministry of home affairs had admitted to “stray stone pelting incidents/protests” but denied any retaliation from the security personnel. None of the media channels showed this news!
Stories in media on a said incident in Soura region of #Srinagar.
On 09/08, miscreants mingled with people returning home after prayers at a local mosque. They resorted to unprovoked stone pelting against law enforcement forces to cause widespread unrest.@diprjk @JmuKmrPolice
— Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs (@PIBHomeAffairs) August 13, 2019
Among the Indian media houses, barring “The Wire” and “Quint” news portals, most media outlets toed the government line and shied away from any genuine reporting on J&K. As the days have passed, most media houses are still showing videos of mosques in Jammu claiming it to be Srinagar to show the calm and “normalcy” in the valley.
Some channels are also showing how J&K is gearing to celebrate Independence day. There are videos of army and police preparations, parades and cultural programs. But they don’t explain the irony. How are people celebrating Independence day when they are in curfew and lockdown!
As the next step of media propaganda, after 10 days, mainstream media has switched the narrative to Pakistan aggression and India´s need to be prepared for war in case of terrorist infiltration. Republic TV has released a media byte with general Bipin Rawat stating that “army is prepared to deal with any security challenge in J&K. Mainstream media reporters are seen mingling with army men and chanting repeatedly “how is the Josh? ”. These are the same channels that also claimed that Demonetization was a success and have been acting as government spokesperson for last 5 years. What is the need for Indian mainstream media channels to show the atmosphere of normalcy when nothing about the whole episode of 370 abrogation is normal?