While Delhi-based media kept a sustained focus on the Valley, newspapers based out of Kashmir naturally stepped up to the job. The difference in the reportage is telling and worth looking into because it points at some of the larger differences between regional and national media and indeed the importance of the former.
On Friday night, 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, was killed in a joint operation by the Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police. Wani was 15 when he joined the militant outfit and was one of the ‘tech-savvy’ faces that leveraged social media to recruit young Kashmiris.
Since Friday, the Valley has witnessed severe violence and unrest. It was reported that several Kashmiris defied curfew to attend Wani’s funeral in South Kashmir’s Tral at the Eidgah – “a ground twice the size of a soccer field was filled”.
Major English dailies, in Delhi and Kashmir, described Wani as the ‘poster boy’ of the new wave of militancy in Kashmir. Countering the narrative around his “virtual bravado”, Imtiyaz Hussain, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Baramullah, stated in a Facebook post that, “despite being a poster boy, he could not carry out a single action against security forces…”.
Meanwhile, this morning brought the news of the rising death toll in the Valley. Delhi editions of The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express printed lead copies on the situation in Kashmir. While the number of people injured and dead differed across publications, it was the news of an angry mob throwing a police vehicle in Jhelum and killing its driver that was highlighted in the headlines.
The lead copies of all the four papers mostly relied on police sources. The story in Kashmir, especially if you only read TOI and HT, was the story of paramilitary and police forces facing a frenzied mob, bringing home the difficult realities of their jobs.
The civilian death toll, by contrast, is a statistic in the long history of unrest in the Valley.
TOI’s lead copy — headlined “Mob drowns cop in Jhelum, toll now 23” — cited police sources to detail the extent of mob fury. The report focused on police stations burnt down, incitement to fight against security forces and calls for anti-India jihad. Inside, one page titled “Tense Valley” was devoted to coverage of Kashmir.
One of the stories again focused on the “frenzied mob”, detailing the difficulties faced by paramilitary forces. Close to 100 officials have been injured in stone pelting, it informed the reader. Another described how “mosque loudspeakers incite youth to join ‘anti-India jihad’”. It contained inputs from one “senior intelligence officer” but lacked specifics, like where these mosques are located.
HT also focused on the mob frenzy and attacks on police and paramilitary forces, citing police sources. Like ToI, it had quotes from the police, but none from civilians injured in the violence. Both papers also carried reports stating that the Army and police were not expecting to get Wani and that his encounter was not a targeted killing. Both the reports are based on Army and Intelligence sources.
The Indian Express, with the headline “Cop killed as protesters push vehicle into Jhelum, toll 21”, also dedicated the majority of its front-page copy to police being attacked. In its inside pages, though, unlikeHT and TOI, the focus is on the medical emergencies at hospitals owing to the sheer number of injured.IE is also the only paper of the big four to carry a quote from a family member of one of the protesters who died.
The Hindu carried a detailed front-page report, giving equal space to violence faced by cops and theinjured protesters. The former details how militants were lobbing grenades at paramilitary forces, while the latter reported how close to 19 protesters may lose their vision owing to pellet injuries.
Both IE and The Hindu also carried reports catering to the Delhi reader, explaining the extent of violence and the peculiarity of these protests and the lure of Wani for young men.
In contrast, Kashmiri dailies focused on civilian deaths, keeping the news of the cop’s drowning as a footnote.
It is while reading these reports that one understands the full extent and implication of the death toll. For the Kashmiri media, dead protesters are not a mere number, they’re actual people. Their names are cited, complete list, along with quotes from their neighbours or families.
Greater Kashmir’s front page went with the headline “Kashmir Bleeds”. Key sources are not police officials, but doctors, medical staff and eye-witnesses from protests. There are quotes from angry locals and the extent of disenchantment of the Kashmiri people is blatant.
Rising Kashmir gave prominent space to the news of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti reaching out to separatists to restore peace. Again, the focus was on civilian loss of life. The police and Army came in later in their copy, in stark contrast to the official quotes that come in early on in Delhi newspaper reports.
Both Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir also carried reports on their front pages on the nature of injuries sustained by protesters. Aside from The Hindu, all other Delhi newspapers missed (or ignored) this detail.
Greater Kashmir — with the headline “Shooting to Kill?” — reported that doctors in Srinagar hospitals said a number of people were losing their lives owing to injuries on “vital organs, vessels or head”. Rising Kashmir went with the headline: “Bullets fired to kill not to control protesters”. The report again cites Dr Kaiser Ahmad Koul, who said, “Most of the bullet injured admitted at SMHS [Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital] had received fatal shots.”
Both papers elaborated on the difficult task ahead for hospitals that are “overwhelmed with wounded”. They also reported on security personnel allegedly cracking down on ambulances and medical staff.
Focus on doctors working overtime, medical staff also bearing the brunt of a crackdown and hospitals spilling with patients highlight the extent of civil unrest and crisis. Kashmir Observer in an analysis piece on its front page stated that the situation is an “eerie echo of 2008 and 2010 protests which not only made a cross section of Kashmiris take to the streets but also left scores dead”. The piece also notes that a peculiar feature of the protest is its spontaneity.
The Kashmir Monitor, while keeping the focus on the death toll, gave a separate column to J&K Minister of Education asking parents to act responsibly and stating that police forces have had to open fire in the face of attacks by youths. In its lead copy, it spoke of everyday life being affected because of the curfew.
It isn’t as though what the Delhi newspapers have reported is untrue or that the Kashmiri media is presenting propaganda. The reality perhaps is a terrible pattern made up of the facts highlighted in both the regional and national media. What the Delhi newspapers have presented is the security forces’ point of view, which is important but incomplete. Most reports lack an empathy for the events happening on ground and this is what the regional Kashmiri media provides in its reports. National media cannot be invested as deeply in local issues as regional media can be, which is why it’s critically important that we have a vibrant local media.
Kashmiri newspapers, with stark images of wounded protesters, dead bodies and the injured being carried on a stretcher, make the loss of life palpably real. Place their images next to those in Delhi newspapers: masked stone-pelters and security guards on empty, curfew-hit streets. Together, the image that comes across underscores just how daunting the task ahead is for the state.
Update: The Delhi edition of The Indian Express today carried a front-page story on the number of eye injuries cause owing to pellets. Inside page 6 has a story headlined, “Several children among those injured”. TOI focused on the government’s plan of action along with Pakistan using Wani’s death to “stoke J&K fire”. Inside, TOI carried a detailed report on CRPF men getting injured in a blast by militants, along with a single column report on pellet injuries in protesters. Meanwhile, Rising Kashmir and Greater Kashmir front-page informs us that the death toll has now reached to about 30 people. Rising Kashmirhas a detailed report on 26-year-old Shabir Ahmad Mir, who was killed in police firing at Tengpora, Batamaloo. It also has a small report on 20 CRPF men injured in old Srinagar.
Extracted from newslaundry