At Braripora village, just a few kilometers ahead of the LOC, an old shopkeeper shows me his leg. ‘I fell down and got hurt when we were running away during shelling by the Pakistani army. I used to work as a porter for the army in my younger days. My leg’s been numb ever since’. It’s easy to talk of war living far away in the safety of the city, he says. ‘But for us living near the Line of Control, it means living in constant fear’. When we reached Braripora in Uri district of Kashmir, there were reports of an encounter with terrorists trying to infiltrate into India. The army was on alert. A few with access to satellite televisions had been following news day and night ever since 18 soldiers had been killed in a fidayeen attack.
Every village we pass on our way to Uri, the site of the terror attack, is seething with anger. We travel early to avoid hotspots where young ‘stone throwers’ engage with the security forces every day. It is a routine now – there is even a scheduled time when it happens. They break for lunch and tea, and the fighting ends just before dinner every day, jokes a police officer. And an eerie peace extends till morning before they start again.
At the gates of the army brigade headquarters, the site of the attack, we are faced with many questions from the locals. An agitated senior citizen asks, ‘While we feel for the families of the 18 army men who died in Uri, why the secrecy? Why is the army not allowing us to see the dead terrorists? Are they trying to hide something?’. This response is routine after an encounter. The locals demand the body be handed over to them for identification because there have been cases of fake encounters in the past. This also gives the extremists an opportunity to drum up more support for their cause and often the protests turn violent.
At Sheeri village near Baramullah, a crowd led by a post graduate student of journalism at Kashmir University surrounds us. The questions are the same: why this one-sided jingoistic coverage? Where were the tears for the 81 civilians killed in the unrest? Why are our views ignored? It is difficult to argue with the mob, thankfully their anger is more for a few channels who have chosen nationalism over balanced coverage. We get away, but at a different location some media vehicles are stoned. National media is not tolerated anymore in many parts of the valley, especially the south. A few stringers brave the crowds and send daily updates which often don’t make it to the news.
The editorial policy of a few national news channels have made life difficult for their reporters in Srinagar to operate. They are now threatened and abused whenever they are out reporting. The protests led by the youth are no longer tolerant like before. They want the national media to go back! The trend picked up especially after social media came into existence. This time alone, broadcast vans of three television channels have been attacked. The chasm of distrust that has been created will be difficult to cross.
The way the Kashmir conflict has been covered is unfortunate. There is a need for maturity and some courage to be able to just report and reflect reality. In the new digital age when propaganda engines run full throttle, there will be challenges. Tolerance has gone down in this phase of news, driven by a false sense of nationalism. Real journalism must therefore strike back to restore faith in people.
Karma Paljor is the Business Editor, CNN News 18