Covering Kashmir: An outsider's view from the inside - IV
As the years have passed, what amazes me is the perseverance of journalists who continue to cover the story. There's even an irrational hope that every twist, every turn in the Kashmir story will be a gamechanger. So every election - 1996, 2002, 2008 has been heralded with huge hopes, every time India and Pakistan announce a fresh round of talks or confidence-building measures like the Agra summit or the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, there's a huge buzz, and even when there is some terrible terrorist strike: the IC 814 hijack, the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, there is a sense that something might just change in the valley. My 27-year-old colleague Raheel Khursheed who headed back to Srinagar from Delhi last year describes the excitement he felt when he saw billboards of President Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh outside his home in 2005, and compares it to the dark days of the street protests in 2010. "I don't see much hope," he concludes, " Kashmir will continue to be central to the power structure in Pakistan that will always try to foment trouble here, and the Indian government just doesn't seem able to innovate, to nuance its hard position to change the narrative."
The government's inability to innovate is also coupled with a reluctance to appreciate things that do change - like all that New Delhi failed to recognize in the 2010 protests: that thousands of protestors came out on to the streets everyday for 3 months, without anything more lethal than stones in their hands. That despite their not being allowed to pray in any of the big mosques for several consecutive fridays, not one of the lakhs of Amarnath Yatris travelling through the valley were attacked, nor did the protests take on sectarian tones of the previous years. And that despite efforts from Pakistan to internationalise the issue again, and the obviously inordinate use of bullets by the security forces, the protestors remained a homegrown bunch only, motivated, if at all, by their own leadership. There was a message those protestors were sending the government, that is still to be fully understood by those in power. That the Kashmiri movement is not going to die, but that it might be coming to terms with the limits of what it can achieve. Azaadi means many things to many people here, but one version of it seems to be about achieving the maximum freedom within the "non-redrawable borders" the Indian leadership refers to. Unfortunately, New Delhi's only concrete response to that message so far has been a 3-man committee, and in the absence of any more steps, those fearing more violence in the summer of 2011, may well be justified in those fears.
Over the years, covering the story in Kashmir has also meant becoming a post office for messages like that one - an interface in a face-off that is not just destroying lives in Jammu and Kashmir, but also holding the entire subcontinent back from developing its full potential. In weak moments, because journalists are supposed to only describe what they see, not weigh on the outcomes, one wonders about whether carrying those messages have any purpose at all.
I remember standing in the middle of the Idgah 'matryrs' cemetery on a particularly troubled afternoon last August. The police had left after firing several rounds of teargas at a funeral for one of the 110 boys that were killed in the protests. The crowds that came to the funeral despite the curfew was large, in the thousands, but as I spoke to the camera, one of the men listening to me got agitated that I wasn't referring to them in the 'tens of thousands'.
Within seconds the anger spread, and the crowds who had been shouting Azaadi slogans, were now shouting "Go back, Indian media" to us. Even my colleagues, CNN-IBN's unperturbable Mufti Islah and Bashir Lone were beginning to look worried. The man then came up to me rather menacingly shouting, "You Indian media are all the same. You always lie. You lie to your people, and give them the wrong idea about us Kashmiris." A little unnerved myself, I broke the cardinal rule of never responding in such situations to ask him, "But what do you care what people in Delhi think?" The man walked away without a word. The truth is, all sides of this conflict care, and care deeply; and too much heated emotion continues to tangle a problem which needs rational thought. For the helpless, beautiful woman described at the beginning of this piece, there is no walking away from that reality. The village strongmen still covet the beauty, aging as she is, her eyes wearied by all she has seen. For those of us telling her tale, it is a story we can never walk away from either.
More about Suhasini HaidarSuhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. Earlier, she was a senior editor and prime time anchor for India's leading 24-hour English news channel CNN-IBN, and also hosted the signature show, 'World View with Suhasini Haidar'. Over the course of her 17-year career, Suhasini has covered the most challenging stories and conflicts from the most diverse regions including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. In India, she has covered the external affairs beat for over a decade and her domestic assignments include in-depth reportage from Kashmir. In 2011 she won the Indian Television Academy-GR8! Award for 'Global news coverage',and the Exchange4Media 'Enba' award for best spot news reporting from Libya. In 2010, She won the NewsTelevision NT 'Best TV News Presenter' Award. Suhasini is the only journalist to have interviewed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, a show that won the prestigious Indian Television Academy award as 'Best Chat show' for the year.
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