2018: How the year was captured in Kashmir

The biggest story from the State that caught the attention of world this year was not from Kashmir, but from Kathua. Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, CNN, Hindu, Times of India, Gulf News and almost every big news outlet covered the horrific incident.
2018: How the year was captured in Kashmir
Representational pic

The year has not been that different than the previous ones, when the news that mostly got the front page coverage in national and international media, was that of suffering, pain and mourning surrounding the death.

The pain of pellets continues to haunt Kashmiris and international media continued its reportage. On January 11, BBC put the smiling Insha Mushtaq 16 on their website as part of their story "Kashmir teen's exam joy after being blinded in protests." The portal described the agony, suffering and little bit of joy in the life of widely covered pellet blinded Insha.

Thereafter throughout the year pellets continued to be the newsmakers. If last year it was Insha, this year the face of this horror became 18 month old Hiba. AlJazeera reported "Security forces struck 18-month-old Hiba Nasir as her mother tried to protect her at home during clashes with rebels."

Number of TV channels and news portals both in India and outside continued to report the agony, right from her treatment to the unfortunate news of doctors confirming that Hiba may never be able to see through one of her eyes. She would have never liked the title, but she was called J&K's youngest pellet victim. As media suggested nowhere in world pellets are used in such a way against people, Hiba is undoubtedly world's youngest pellet victim.

What news outlets later dubbed as the ceasefire violations of the decade, LOC became the news right from January itself. Associated Press covered the situation with its now monotonous headline, Tensions Soar Along Indian, Pakistan Frontier in Kashmir. The LOC has been going through the phases of action/inaction for many years now. Most of Indian news channels covered the impact on the border residents and their migration to safer places. Pakistani channels covered from their side and the blame game continued, as to who started first.

Recently ANI cited MHA reported that Pakistani forces routinely carried out over 1,962 incidents of unprovoked ceasefire violations in which about 50 Indians have lost their lives. It gives an average of one firing incident every 4.4 hours in 2018, suggesting there was never a ceasefire on the LOC.

However the biggest story from the State that caught the attention of world this year was not from Kashmir, but from Kathua. Even as LOC was fired up and pellets were raining, the story of this huge tragedy was starting to take shape in the remote Kathua village.

Though the incident happened in January, however, it didn't get much coverage at that time. With assembly in session, the opposition seized on the moment to demand investigation. And when the investigation report with grisly detail came to public, the news just set media on fire.

The bone chilling incident of rape and murder of eight year old kid and the widespread coverage forced even UN Secretary General Antonio Guiterres stated that the "guilty must be held responsible" and described the incident as "horrific".

Washington Post, New York Times, BBC, CNN, Hindu, Times of India, Gulf News and almost every big news outlet covered the horrific incident. According to some theories it was the incident that led to the reason of another major story of the year, downfall of PDP-BJP coalition government in the State.

The media coverage was so intense in Kathua that some government quarters were unnerved and wondered, if there are any other conspiracy behind it. Zee News in one of its programmes expressed its doubt why so many foreign journalists are coming to Kathua. Several other pro-government news outlets also got behind the fig leaf crying Don't Defame India.

Almost every aspect of the incident was covered from smallest detail of the gory crime, the threats to lawyers, shifting of case, conduct of opposing lawyers, speech of two BJP ministers. The incident as undoubtedly the most covered event of the State.

The ubiquitous news of violence adorned the headlines in media every second day. Two killed, three killed, four killed, six killed and so on. However the news that due to share of its statistics got wide coverage was on April 1, when 20 persons died in a single day. These included 13 militants, three troopers, and four civilians. Reports suggested more that 200 were also injured.

With money aspect in mind, Asia Times wrote, "the government has hailed the death of 13 militants in three separate encounters in Kashmir, calling it the "biggest strike of the decade". And the security forces responsible may have hit an even bigger jackpot, as they will share in a record pool of reward money."

The security forces who executed the operations and possibly their informers will share reward money expected to total around Rs 20 million (US$307,577), it further read.

The encounters kept going on and the headlines kept changing with different news angles.

Almost every encounter has a story to tell. The March 15 encounter at Balhama, Pampore shot to eminence after a house of a local poet was destroyed in the gunfight. The poet Ghulam Muhammad Bhat's decades of work was destroyed in the encounter and for many national and international news outlets it was differently painful to cover the destruction. Quoting the poetry of suffering written by Bhat long back but still relevant, the features were full of human interest.

New York times also published a feature Kashmiri Teenagers Are Dying to Protect Militants, throwing light on the trend where civilians are throwing themselves between government forces and militants.

The Wire earlier this year published a piece by Jean Dreze, a visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University, titled A Never-Ending Nightmare in Kashmir. The article described how first-hand accounts of torture in the 'Structures of Violence' report are extremely disturbing. The writing clearly shows the author having been shocked by reading bone chilling torture stories, which he feels akin to German concentration camp or in Congo, in the report previously published by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. He wrote, ending human rights violations in Kashmir requires not only the repeal of draconian Acts but also respect for the law.

Newsmakers themselves became news this year. One June 14, veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari was killed, which was covered extensively by the media. Even New York times wrote an oped piece on the killing. Other news channels in India and abroad also covered the tragedy.

The start of Ramadan Ceasefire by New Delhi got widespread coverage and so did its aftermath, which was unlike any peace era. The demise of ceasefire was drowned in the news of killing of Shujaat Bukhari. Part from garnering headlines in the media, no headway could be made in the ceasefire.

Another journalist which hit the headlines was Kamran Yousuf who was released after six months in jail. Kamran accused of 'waging war against India' and 'stone throwing', got after massive lobbying by news organisations and activists. Outlook, Indian Express, NDTV, trtworld, there and others. Trtworld.com wrote Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) slams charges against imprisoned Kashmiri journalist.

The NIA's questions regarding the definition of a journalist also got rebuke from CPJ. "India's National Investigative Agency is way out of its league and has no business defining what 'a real journalist' should cover," says Steven Butler of Committee to Protect Journalists, seeking release of Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yusuf. He was quoted widely.

The year also brought some good documentaries. Channel News Asia broadcast a one hour documentary Kashmir: A War Of Stones, highlighting that with human rights abuses by the armed forces, more and more youth, attracted to militancy, are prepared to risk their lives.

Times Now telecast "Kashmir: The Story," a documentary series showcasing official Indian narrative on Kashmir.

Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar's documentary No Fathers in Kashmir, which was supposed to be released this year got delayed as Censor Board didnt clear its screening. The news was also highlighted by number of media channels.

In August this year New Delhi withdrew the security clearance granted to Qatar's Al Jazeera network after a documentary on Kashmir was aired by the channel.

Right from January, there was continuation of negative portrayal of Kashmir in Indian media that created a huge dent in tourism arrivals.

Newslaundry wrote, "Being a conflict zone marked by uncertainties, the state is used to feeding the appetite of many TRP-hungry national media organisations. Some of them never miss a chance to demean and demonise Kashmiris and leave no stone unturned in carrying out false propaganda against the state's people, which ultimately alienates them even more from India."

The Centre's special representative to Kashmir Dineshwar Sharma took note of this trend and had this to say about some TV media outlets to The Hindu: "Vicious propaganda against Kashmiris by some TV channels is affecting the peace process."

This has been the story since the unrest in 2016. The negative portrayal of events in Kashmir has not only hurt the tourism sector but also tarnished the image of Kashmiris living outside, wrote the newslalundry.com. The resultant dip of tourist arrival of 50-60% in 2017 continued in first few months of 2018.

The United States keeping Jammu and Kashmir in Level 4 of its latest travel advisory and calling for its citizens not to travel to the region as "terrorist attacks and violent civil unrest are possible in the state," also got coverage in local and national media.

New York Times also produced a rare editorial on Kashmir titled A Long Shot in Kashmir, which got panned by many Kashmiri writers for raising the bogey of Islamism and linking Kashmir freedom struggle with India-Pakistan conflict. There was a view that the editorial lacked sense of ground situation.

In other categories, Kashmir popped up occasionally in interesting news items. On 09  January 2018, various news agencies and media outlets carried the news item about how a 5000 year old rock found in kashmir shows the oldest evidence of supernova in the world. A news something to pride about detailed the work of Astrophysicist Mayank Vahia and his colleagues at the Tata Institute of Fundamental research.

indiaclimatedialogue.net covered the story of comeback of Nadru (lotus stem) vegetable back to water bodies of Kashmir particularly the Dal Lake. The seed of the delicacy was destroyed following the 2014 floods, but thanks to efforts of local farmers, the vegetable in back.

Number of publications also kept writing about the Climate Change and how vulnerable the State particularly Ladakh region is to the impact.

The politics was also widely covered. The break up of PDP-BJP government got global coverage, their internal bickering, defections tasted good national and local coverage, which still continues.

Much like the start of the year which had a heavy dose of violence, the year end was no different.

400 people killed in Kashmir so far in 2018, highest in a decade, screamed the headline on Huffington post. The killings 413 to be precise till November ending got coverage widely in US, European, Mideast and other country media. France24 on November 25 wrote eight killed as Kashmir reels from deadly year. Reuters also carried story Indian troops kill six in Kashmir as annual death toll hits highest in a decade, in the aftermath of Sekipora encounter. It further wrote "It is the highest toll since 2008 when 505 people died."

In September BBC carried a feature Tortured and killed: Kashmir's vulnerable policemen, showing the other side of the conflict that is destroying more Kashmiri families.

Washington Post on December 23, wrote "2018 is the deadliest year in a decade in Kashmir. Next year could be worse," indicating how the situation is in no mood to cool down. 

"The militancy is becoming much more homegrown now. The coming year may be more violent," it quoted a researcher

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