‘Framing Kashmiris’: Bilal Kawa’s detention and revival of anti-Kashmir media vitriol

After the Kashmiri trader’s detention in Delhi, his family castigated the “Indian media” for declaring their son as a “suspected terrorist” in the 2000 Red Fort Attack case despite his alleged role still being verified. This vitriolic media content has recreated “down with Indian media” slogans apart from the old media grumble in Srinagar.

Just three months after his appointment, and scores of cold shoulders later, the ex-Intelligence boss—sent as Delhi’s special Kashmir envoy—has finally offered first impressions about his K-interactions with some cloaked citizenry. Dineshwar Sharma has sought Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s meeting with media moguls in a bid to cut down the anti-Kashmir media vitriol.

Somewhere behind the request is the rising sense that TV news’ “vicious propaganda” against Kashmiris comes in between the “peace process”—for which, Sharma was deputed as Delhi’s emissary last fall.

That they “exaggerate events” and “make a mountain out of a molehill” apart, the repeated airing of vitriolic content on Kashmir is now being perceived as the “alienation force multiplier”.

But beyond what Sharma has requested for, Delhi media’s big-bad-bashing story seems incomplete without Kashmir.

Lately when Times of India came up with the concocted story about the roommate of Aligarh Muslim University scholar Mannan Wani, who is alleged to have joined militant ranks, he felt threatened in the RSS nerve centre, Nagpur, where he has been working and living with his wife.

Anuja Jaiswal’s fictional piece in the name of breaking news termed Hizb’s new entrant, Mannan Wani’s roommate from Baramulla as ‘missing’ since July 2017.

“I was a roommate of Mannan in college,” Hussain, Mannan’s friend had to come clean on the report, to avert a possible police raid. “The news report has put me in danger. This journalist never spoke to me before doing this report. I don’t know how they’re claiming that I’m missing and what they mean by it.”

He may not know the reason why the reporter skipped contacting him before filing her ‘exclusive’ story on him. But back home in Kashmir, his family and friends understood the possible ramifications of the fake news: police raid, interrogation, court trails and decades of prison life.

ALSO READ: Bilal Kawa Detention: ‘Another innocent Kashmiri is being framed’

This is how majority of Kashmiris—witness of sudden turn of events—reacted over the news.

“Such news doesn’t surprise me anymore,” says a senior Srinagar-based scribe, covering Kashmir since the past 25 years. “When the war broke out against Indian state in Kashmir during 1990s, almost all the Indian institutions ganged up against Kashmiris, and Indian media, barring a few exceptions, was another arm of the state in this regard. Despite a huge rise in the armed rebellion to remind Delhi of its pending plebiscite promise, Kashmiris became overnight ‘terrorists’.”

And once this ‘label’ was normalised by Delhi media, the scribe says, Kashmiri students, travellers, traders and others were caught in a dragnet and framed in concocted terror charges.  Out of this media-military consortium, the scribe saw a new crisis emerging from Kashmir: Media Trail — ‘where Kashmiris became cannon fodder’.

“It shocked many Kashmiris,” the scribe continues. “Most of us were new to it. With time, however, it became a new normal in Kashmir when suddenly innocents became ‘conspirators’, ‘plotters’ and ‘terrorists’ and were sent behind bars on frivolous charges.”

Among those ‘conspirator’ was Liaqat Shah, an ex-Hizb militant from Kashmir, whom the Delhi Police detained on his way home from Pakistan via Nepal in 2013.

Even after “national media” termed Shah a potential Delhi bomber, who otherwise had come home by the ‘Rehabilitation Policy’, the National Investigation Agency of India absolved him of all the charges later.

“This media framing is a typical case of sadist news slant,” says Kashif Bhat, a former Jamia Millia student. “I’ve myself seen how we Kashmiri students used to get police summons during my stay in Delhi. Much of that hounding had to do with Indian media’s portrayal of Kashmir.” This compelling tendency to show Kashmiris in bad light has already ruined lives, with years spent in the dungeons.

Before he would be acquitted on February 16, 2017, Mohammad Rafiq Shah’s 12 years of custodial ordeal had trended for its nightmarish elements: rats set in his trousers, making him drink urine…

When he finally returned home, his struggle-hardened mother Mehmooda lifted her teary eyes up to “thank Allah for returning my son.”

Despite his family’s persistent vouching for his innocence, Shah, then a 22-year-old post-graduate student from Kashmir University, was arrested from Kashmir for his alleged role in October 29, 2005 bombing case that rocked Delhi. Once detained, Delhi media had its own story to tell about him.

“THIS IS THE 29/10 BOMBER,” screamed the title of a Hindustan Times article in capital bold letters after Shah’s arrest. With his acquittal, this old story became viral on social media, with netizens demanding an explanation from the media.

“Like in many other cases,” says Shah’s contemporary, Irshad Hassan, a college lecturer, “that case was a typical instance of how Indian media behaved as an extension of the Indian state.” Hassan says the media hastened such detentions in the name of “so-called national security”—for which Kashmiris have been perceived as an imminent threat.

“While this media posturing cuts the ‘victim’ image of the Indian state, it presents Kashmiris as some kind of prowling marauders,” Hassan says. “This speaks of their crafty media propaganda on Kashmir.”

When this “propaganda” began finding ground in the “national media” during the nineties, raids and subsequent framing of Kashmiris in terror-related cases became Delhi’s newfound dissent management tool.

ALSO READ: Fake News on Times of India claims roommate of Mannan missing, puts life of professional in danger

“I’m sorry to say that the [news] anchors are … showing Kashmiris in a bad light,” chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said in a seminar on “Understanding Kashmir” in July 2017 at Delhi.

Despite her grouse, the channels are continuously airing the venomous and vicious content on Kashmir. Lately when leather merchant Bilal Kawa was detained by Delhi Police’s Special Cell and Gujarat ATS at Delhi Airport, the “national media” termed it an arrest of a “mastermind”.

To press for their son’s release and seek explanation of this brazen media trail, Kawa’s family staged a protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Jan 12.

Bilal Kawa’s mother along with her relatives demanding his release at the Press Enclave in Srinagar.

Amid “down with Indian media” slogans, another helpless mother was pleading for the return of her son, whose detention was described as a “major setback for Pakistan” by one of the Indian channels.

Media tag, interestingly, came well before judicial verdict in this case, too.

“This anti-Kashmir media vitriol,” Hassan, Rafiq Shah’s contemporary, says, “is enough to declare the entire Kashmiri race as guilty, till proven innocent.”

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