Judging from the attention?or lack of it?given by the media to the disturbances in Srinagar over the issue of forest land being given?and now withdrawn?to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, the question arises whether the media has enough adequate staff to go deeper into such issues.
The media'sduty doesn'tend with reporting riots. Why did the riots take place in the first instance? Not many newspapers have taken the trouble to provide the background. But, as expected, The Hindu (July 1) has done the job with an excellent article by Praveen Swami. According to him ?for Shri Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, the anti-Shrine Board protests are crucible in which piety and xenophobic paranoia can be forged into a programme of resistance to India?. It is Geelani'sargument that India is trying to turn the Muslims of Kashmir into a minority. The same arguments has even been made by a senior Congress leader Ghulam Rasool Kar in the Urdu-language paper Khidmat. But it is also necessary to remember, as Francois Gautier pointed out in an article in The Indian Express (July 1) that ?four lakh Kashmiri Hindus have been forced by death, terror and violence, to flee the Valley of their ancestors in one of the biggest ethnic cleansing in human history.? Syed Geelani obviously does not want to be reminded of it.
Praveen Swami makes two important points: ?one, of the arguments against the land use rights granted to the Amarnath Shrine Board stand on firm empirical foundations? and two, ?nor is it clear just why putting up pre-fabricated restrooms for pilgrims (in the area allotted) will increase environmental threat?.
Gautier, who, incidentally has been a long-time India expert has his own points to make. One is that ?millions of devotees have flocked to Amarnath over the centuries and Muslims from Kashmir should show them generosity because in India, although Muslims have been a minority since the beginning, Hindus have always respected the religion of Islam.? And the other is that ?if only Kashmiri Muslims would allow Sufism to make a comeback in the Valley, would permit the spirit of bhakti, of devotion, of tolerance? it could not only save Kashmir, allow the return of their four lakh Hindu brothers and sisters but it might help Islam to regenerate itself?. Some hope! The Indian Express said that the reasons for taking back the land given to the Shrine Board showed ?the communal overtones of the issue? and the utter indifference of the government to public welfare.
Deccan Herald (July 1) felt that the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir ?have done damage to the cause of communal harmony in the state and helped anti-national elements to fish in troubled waters?. Many news papers have expressed their disapproval of bandhs and the violence unleashed on such occasions.
The Tribune has a solution. In a strong editorial it wrote: (June 27): ?Whenever the call for a bandh is made, those who give it should be made accountable for the loss they cause to the economy. This is perhaps the only way in which the menace can be tackled.? What is disturbing is a point raised by Francois Gautier concerning the BBC reportage on Amarnath. Write Gautier: ?Reports of the BBC on Amarnath always speak about Indian-administered Kashmir never giving the full picture of Hindus being forced to flee the Valley nor the sacredness of this ancient pilgrimage for all Hindus.? If the BBC correspondent is Delhi-based he must be sharply pulled up. If he is a Pakistan-based correspondent sent to Srinagar to cover the riots, then the Government of India must lodge a strong protest with the BBC in London. In any event the British High Commissioner in Delhi must be told in strong terms that referring to Kashmir as ?Indian-administered? is not acceptable. The Government either does not listen to the BBC coverage of the Srinagar riots or is too dumb.
Which makes an editorial in The Hindu (July 1) particularly significant. It says: ?The party that leads the United Progressive Alliance government is in a state or moral and political confusion? The Congress has absolutely no idea where it is going? It has resorted to political adventurism. The government it heads has no answer to the spectre of double-digit inflation?. The mishandling of the Amarnath Shrine Land affair has set-off a wave of communal hate and tension in Jammu and Kashmir?. We now have the spectacle of a government that promised transparency and enacted a quite radical Right to Information Act making decisions on key policy issues behind closed door in away that lacks straight-forwardness. A party that promised a secular and forward-looking alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party is now embroiled in manoeuvres that are as short-sighted as they are deficient in political logic. The Congress might be able to keep the UPA government afloat for a while by cutting a deal with ex-adversaries, but the cost of such expediency will be extremely high.?
Coming as are these comments from The Hindu they show in what a deplorable state the Congress has fallen.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court has strongly criticised the Gujarat police for pursuing criminal proceeding against a distinguished sociologist, Ashish Nandy for an article he had written for a national newspaper entitled ?Blame the Middle Class?. The Inspector of the Satellite Police Station, Ahmedabad had issued a summons to Shri Nandy. A Vacation Bench consisting of Justices Altamas Kabir and G.S.Singhvi ordered the cancellation of the summons. Justice Kabir told Counsel for Gujarat, Hemantika Wahi: ?There is no ground for harassing a journalist. Let him live in peace. You (Gujarat Government) are prosecuting this man for his article. If a journalist cannot write, then who else will? I have read the article and I find nothing objectionable. He (petitioner) is 71 years old and is a soft target for you.? And Justice Singhvi said: ?People coming from the land of Mahatma Gandhi have become so intolerant that they can'teven tolerate an article.? And the Bench said: ?Any further summons issued against Shri Nandy in future relating to the case in future will stand quashed?. There is such a thing as Freedom of the Press which all administrations will do well to observe. Harassing journalist is not the best way to run a state. If there is no freedom to criticise a state, what is the media for?
And as Justice Kabir rightly pointed out: ?If a journalist cannot write, then who else will?? These words must be written in letters of gold and exhibited in all government offices, just as they do pictures of Mahatma Gandhi or that of the Prime Minster.