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The Media And The Floods in Jammu And Kashmir

 

NEW DELHI: Television channels in New Delhi woke up to the disaster in Jammu and Kashmir only when Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to visit the state. Till then, despite alerts from the reporters in Srinagar, the news was not even amongst the top lead stories of the so called mainstream media for which Jammu and Kashmir has little significance beyond Pakistan and terrorism.

The coverage by visible anchors of the devastation caused by the torrential flood waters centred around one upmanship that exhibited itself at different points. The “how do you feel being rescued by the army seemed to dominate the media discourse, as gloating scribes demanded answers to this question from the Kashmiris struggling to survive. Local journalist formed rescue squads to save each other, families and friends from the floods while the media houses employing them carried on chest thumping debates in the evenings glorifying the role of the Army into some sort of crusade. The insensitivity of the reporting was amazing, and in complete contradiction of the tenets of journalism that is supposed to keep the people—in any situation—central to the reportage.

The Army soldiers and officers working through the waters did not draw attention to themselves, but for the anchors in New Delhi and some select guests, rescue operations became a mission in the midst of ‘enemies’. Sane voices pointing out through newspaper columns that the Army was only doing its job did not silence the television journalists who continued with a diatribe that added to the Kashmiri’s anguish. A few instances of stone pelting by persons furious with a government that had completely vanished from the scene, was almost projected as an ‘act of war’ by the media anchors with labels of ‘traitor’ and ‘anti-national’ liberally sprinkled over what was supposed to be the coverage of the worst human disaster in recent times.

In this bizarre show of what passes for nationalism with some television channels. the victims of the disaster—the lakhs of Kashmiris— were ignored in the stories projecting just the heroic efforts of the Indian Army. An educated citizen actually wrote to The Citizen following a report on how the local people had united to save themselves and put together an information grapevine on the social media, saying that she had not read any of this at all. Why is the media here not even mentioning this? she asked almost unbelievingly.

And the media did not mention any of the superhuman efforts by the Kashmiris to save their families and friends, as well as complete strangers from the rising waters. This was not even mentioned by several media houses, who also ignored the unity of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs working together in the flood ravaged state. The Golden Temple for instance was amongst the first shrines to pitch in by cooking langar for thousands in the state even as all communities came together in forming squads to rescue their neighbours and others trapped in the torrential waters.

The reports here did not give any idea of the extent of damage, the harrowing experience of the lakhs impacted, the destruction, the heroic feats by just plain, ordinary individuals including local journalists who are all still out there, rescuing people, and trying to get relief material to them.

Kashmiris in and outside the state came together on the social media that became the only source of communication as and when possible. For days connectivity snapped and families did not hear from each other for as many as nine to ten days, leading to virtual despair that reflected itself on the social media. No one went to the television channels that were carrying on their own propaganda, everyone turned to Facebook and Twitter to flash information about civilian rescue teams, phone numbers, contact persons, requests for medicines and drinking water, any and everything required in such a dire emergency situation.

The state government disappeared from view, leaving the people with little recourse but to look out for themselves. The Army launched huge operations but as the open letter from an Army wife to the Prime Minister (published in The Citizen) stated, the civilian authority required to act as the central point for such mammoth operations was completely missing from action. The Army, like the Kashmiris, built a communication network through the social media putting out numbers, names of the dead and rescued, and other such details. In fact the New York Times even carried a report on this parallel communication network at a time when the state government and the print and electronic media had failed the people.

The relief operations have started, but again just by the Army and the civilian volunteer organisations. The state government is missing from action, and the reports of the phenomenal efforts to reach the supplies to the people is not even being covered by the media outside the state. There has been no effort to disseminate information by the big media about the relief operations, the requirements of the people, and the urgency behind this given the fact that winter is around the corner.

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