Media persons working in any conflict zone face a host of hazards ranging from the ever-looming threat of bodily harm, to serious psychological infirmities such as ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’. Scribes who strongly believe in objective reporting run the additional risk of retribution as their reportage ends up riling feuding entities. This phenomenon was quite common in the Kashmir Valley during the early 90s, and manifested itself in the form of open threats and brazen attacks by infuriated terrorist groups on media houses and journalists.
Similarly, the establishment ‘punished’ media houses that did not toe the official line by starving them financially through the age-old tactics of directing government departments not to place official advertisements in the ‘errant’ newspapers. However, by the mid-nineties both the establishment and terrorist groups in J&K seemed to have realised that image building by intimidating the media was proving to be counterproductive and so they made some amends.
Media houses and journalists in Kashmir Valley too realised that under the existing circumstances, it was best to be ‘practical’ while reporting on terrorism related incidents in a manner that didn’t offend the establishment or the terrorists. So, it’s not strange that while terrorist-initiated incidents of targeted killings and attacks resulting in loss of life or limb of innocent civilians are invariably attributed to “unidentified gunmen”, news of successes against security forces never fails to mention the identity of the terrorist group responsible for the attack!
Ask anyone who remains abreast with what’s happenings in J&K and you’ll be told that in the ongoing ‘battle’ to win ‘hearts and minds’, the pro-Pakistan lobby led by All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] has fared much better that the Indian establishment. While conventional apathy and red tape are undoubtedly largely responsible for lackluster performance of India’s establishment on the media front, the main reason for this sorry state of affairs is New Delhi’s antiquated mindset and refusal to adapt itself to the fast-changing situations.
Consequently, India’s polity and bureaucracy both fail to appreciate that the phenomenal increase in domestic anti-India tirade on the Kashmir issue is actually part of a much bigger gambit of ‘perception warfare’ being orchestrated from across the Radcliffe Line. The harsh reality is that despite clear indicators, New Delhi doesn’t seem to be prepared to fight fire with fire by adopting a more proactive and aggressive media outreach to thwart the devious designs of inimical forces.
This is extremely unfortunate, as some so-called ‘rights activists’ openly adopt a patently motivated anti-India stance. Everyone appears to be in awe of famous personalities like Arundhati Roy and Gautam Navlakha, who have all the time and energy to rave and rant on what they perceive to be institutionalised excesses against Kashmiris. However, no one questions the bald-faced selectivity and stoic silence of rights activists on the issue of innocent civilians being mercilessly killed by terrorists even when terrorist groups upload videos showing brutal Islamic State like executions and have the gall to proudly accept responsibility for such cowardly acts!
Similarly, no one ever seems to question these self-anointed human rights crusaders as to why does their untainted conscience and unassailable convictions conveniently desert them when they read about civilians being killed by terrorists? How come their heart doesn’t bleed for the teenaged Kashmiri girl who can be seen being mercilessly shot multiple times even as she pleads for mercy with folded hands? Due to lack of credible evidence, to assign ulterior motives to such shamelessly selective display of concern for human rights, would be incorrect. But then, how does one explain such an irrational behavior coming from people who are highly respected for their professed sensitivities, empathy and compassion? How can death of self-confessed terrorists involved in killing unarmed civilians become a humungous human tragedy, but the cold blooded and gruesome murder of civilians by terrorists on unproven charges of being informers be treated as a non-issue by them?
With a former Pakistani High Commissioner to India admitting that he was able to “convince” a well-known Indian writer to write “an article in the newspaper for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination,” the suspicion that some well-known personalities may be taking an anti-India position on this issue for reasons other than purely their personal convictions, whether intentionally or unwittingly, definitely gains more strength.
Furthermore, the former High Commissioner’s triumphant encore that this writer “wrote at the end of her article, ‘Now the time has come to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all through a plebiscite’,” does suggest that Islamabad is definitely following an ingenious ‘mind-control’ campaign to seduce influential literati, activists and civil society members in India to work as fifth columnists to further Pakistan’s contrived Kashmir narrative! This covert campaign has permeated into every nook and corner of society in Kashmir.
In 2019, a student of journalism named Adil Farooq was arrested under the Public Safety Act [PSA] for having links with terrorists. One of the charges on which he was booked pertained to “transportation of illegal arms and ammunition through unconventional routes and away from the security forces.” However, no sooner had Farooq been taken into custody, there was a public outrage against his arrest and the well-oiled pro-Pakistan propaganda lobby along with its proxies took to social media with vengeance, accusing the Indian establishment of using strong arm tactics to muzzle the media in Kashmir.
Senior Hurriyat ‘leader’ Mirwaiz Umar Farookh was one amongst the many who spoke up for the detained student studying journalism. In his tweet, Mirwaiz wrote- “Strongly condemn the arrest of Adil Farooq, a journalism student at Central University of Kashmir who been falsely booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) and shifted to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. It seems the govt is hellbent upon ruining the careers of students and youth by implicating them in fake cases, we demand his immediate release.” With a widely revered preacher like Mirwaiz claiming that the student of journalism had been framed, anti- government sentiments in Kashmir hit the roof.
However, the saying that every lie has a ‘shelf life’ came true on last Tuesday when Farooq was once again arrested, and this time, not on suspicions but red-handed. During routine check of pedestrians in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar on that day, J&K police recovered two live hand grenades from Farooq’s possession.
Coming within hours of a grenade attack in the same area that had left 10 civilians injured, and just before Independence Day, this very important find possibly averted twin major disasters. However, what’s really disquieting is the fact that in spite of being a member of the journalist fraternity and currently working as sub-editor of CNS News Agency in Srinagar, Farooq chose to indulge in such an act that has brought disrepute to the highly respected profession of journalism.
Whereas Farooq’s motivation is not clear, but the one issue which can’t be disputed is that being a media person working in a conflict zone, he was well aware of both what colossal damage grenades can cause and how terrorists are using these in Kashmir. Even without referring to precise data on grenade casualties in Kashmir, one can say with full confidence that since terrorists use these to target security forces in crowded areas, the number of fatalities and injuries caused by grenades to civilians in here are far greater than those suffered by security forces. This is why there can be no justification for Farooq’s despicable misdemeanour.
Therefore, those who consider themselves conscience-keepers of society or champions of human rights need to decide whether they want to support a criminal caught in flagrante with two grenades- a lethal munition which terrorists invariably use in crowded places, or, stand up for the innocent Kashmiris, who unwittingly get killed or injured by such grenades, which in Kashmir, have an inexplicable propensity of missing their intended targets.
Most importantly, it would be interesting to hear what Mirwaiz has to say this time about the detention of his namesake scribe. Even if Farooq chose to ferry the grenades for ideological reasons, the fact that the same could kill, maim or injure locals present at the site where they would be used makes him an accessory to an unpardonable crime against his own people. Hence it would not be presumptuous to regard fourth estate member Adil Farooq as a fifth columnist!