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When the Indian media wants bloodshed

 Garga Chatterjee |  2016-09-23 22:26:06.0  |  New Delhi

When the Indian media wants bloodshed

When two nuclear-armed governments are aggressively egged on by their respective “mainstream” media for “action” and “reaction”, it looks like a dress rehearsal for an apocalypse. Humans all over, especially those in the subcontinent, need to sit up and take notice of  whatever it is that masquerades as “media”. After the Uri attack, there is much talk of action and retaliation in the air, and even more on the airwaves. Did the Indian Army jawans die for nothing, some ask? 

There is something deeply unethical in the voluntariness that is always injected in case of deaths of Army personnel. It is not a sin to die of circumstances like tent burning. There is no indignity in it. By calling that sacrifice and martyrdom, and hence implying a more “active” death, one simply disrespects the dead. Whatever they died for (and all deaths need not be for or against something), I believe they didn’t die so that their death could bring the subcontinent closer to a nuclear war. Many people in the subcontinent love their lives before everything else, including their administration and government. I am one of them. 

On the whole, English, Hindi, and Urdu media in Pakistan and India are playing a very negative role. They are war-mongering for their respective governments, in the name of "nation". Pakistani media is in denial mode while Indian media is in finger-pointing mode, none presenting publicly verifiable evidence to back up their claims or refutations. Defence Ministry and governments of both claim without fact-checking - as if fact-checking was blasphemous and questioning was treasonous. Both refer to armies and governments as "our", seriously undermining the status of the media as an independent pillar in a democratic republican setting. 

A small part of media in both India and Pakistan, especially non-English-Hindi-Urdu media is playing a saner role, but they are marginal in setting the so-called “national” narrative. In the Indian Union, Hindi-English television media is playing an especially irresponsible role. The other day, ex-Chief of Indian Army, Shankar Ray Chowdhury openly suggested raising suicide squads. Is this not incitement to violence? Is there a legal exception for ex-Army folks?  Does he suggest this strategy to his close relatives? Non-Hindi-English media in both countries seem to have less interest in this long drawn conflict between Delhi and Islamabad. 

The role of mainstream media or any non-propaganda media should be based on facts. They should also be cognizant of the fact that the Indian Union and Pakistan administrations are armed with nuclear weapons - with powers to destroy each other terribly - and should educate their audience about the hugely destructive effects of a nuclear conflict and that nuclear fallouts have no respect for international borders. It should also critically examine claims made by their respective armies and governments. Truth and realism should drive public opinion, not jingoism. 

The job of the media is not to act as unquestioning amplifiers of Ministry of Defence’s press briefings and Government of India/Pakistan press releases. If that were so, there would be no need for an independent media. What hopefully separates the Indian Union and Pakistan from North Korea on this count is probably this. But that separation is only half the story – Pakistan and the Indian Union are barely separated from each other globally ranking 133 and 147 out of 180 administrations in the Press Freedom Index of 2016.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, there is an active and growing online activism scene that not only protests but also presents the world with visuals, videos, and narratives of real events of the ground that is absent from mainstream media that Government of India does not want the world to hear. GoI has done things like bringing down web links, to removing videos, from blocking and deleting user profiles, to threatening messages. 

Cyber activists are often tracked down and hounded. A few days ago, Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested after being disallowed from attending a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting abroad. After the Uri attack, a Kashmiri student was expelled from India's prestigious Aligarh Muslim University for an “objectionable” Facebook post. 

Whoever thinks that muzzling dissent and fanning jingoism is some kind of a strategy clearly has forgotten Benjamin Franklin’s words – “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." IPA 

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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