Manufacturing Normalcy

How the Indian media covered Kashmir

aashim raj for the caravan
aashim raj for the caravan
01 December, 2019

ON 9 AUGUST, the last Friday before Eid-ul-Adha, thousands gathered in the streets of Soura, a neighbourhood in Srinagar, for a massive protest against the Indian state. Four days earlier, the home minister, Amit Shah, had announced the effective abrogation of Article 370 in the Constitution, which had provided Jammu and Kashmir a special status that allowed the state to have its own separate constitution and state flag. In addition, the government also divided the state into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The move virtually stripped the local leadership of political power, concentrating it completely in the hands of the central government.

According to the New York Times, the crowd chanted slogans of freedom and waved Kashmiri flags. The procession was blocked by security personnel, who, according to the Washington Post, “began firing tear gas canisters and shotguns carrying pellet rounds at the crowd.” Though they found their own eyewitnesses, both papers were following up on video reports put out by the BBC and Al Jazeera, in which everything described can be seen and heard.

These stories and videos were significant as they showed a Kashmir that was completely different from the one shown in the Indian national media. Ever since Shah’s announcement, the Indian government had been at great pains to show that there was no major discontent about its decision in the state. The national media repeated constantly that all was “normal” in Kashmir. The narrative of normalcy played out on primetime television and the front pages of newspapers, and was repeated endlessly on Twitter by journalists who boasted about flying over Kashmir in government helicopters. The video of the huge crowd gathered in Soura, the sight of people running amok and the hammering sound of shotguns in the background punctured that narrative.

The government immediately issued a statement denying that the protests ever happened. On 10 August, the ministry of home affairs tweeted that the news was “completely fabricated and incorrect.” Gaurav Arya, a former army officer and defence analyst, claimed on Twitter the next day that the videos were fabricated. “There are over 100 reporters in Kashmir right now…reporting live for past 5 days. BBC is lying,” he replied to a tweet asking him about the protests. Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a Delhi-based defence analyst and a columnist for The Print, started a Twitter thread to point out all the possible ways in which the protesters could be discredited. He pointed out that the flags carried by protesters in the video bore the motifs of Islamic State and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and that they were chanting the names of al-Qaida terrorists. (In his own screenshot of the video, the biggest banner was about the abrogation of Article 370.) They were pelting stones. And they “MUST have turned violent as they normally do to get shot at.” Swarajya published a story on their website about Iyer-Mitra’s tweets.