For the first time, a Tehelka article disappoints me

I HAD thought Tehelka to be beyond media hype. It turns out that they are only beyond corporate media hype. Other media hype is still fair game? I don’t know, but this article seriously takes me down from the unhesitating ‘yes’ I used to give it.

I am not pro or anti Kashmir. I am an Indian and consider them to be Indians purely based on what I was taught in school and maps I see and history I research on the net and the political reality of the government. I see that region on fire, I follow news in concern wondering what can be done about a struggle that is as old as the country is (and older than I am). But I also follow Pakistan knowing that it is another country because of shared roots (and relevance to India’s security) AND I’m not anti-Pakistan. To the contrary, I’d like Pakistan to reach a place where calls to jihad are met with “yeah, soon, I just need this one promotion” or “after the harvest” or whatever. I’d like them to enjoy the life they have, because they are kind of brothers and I wish them well, and I think India will also gain from it.

Just saying this because I want to state clearly that I am not a chest-beating “Kashmir is India” person. I am someone who believes that Kashmir first needs safety, and then we’ll figure it out, however it pans out. Unfortunately, by safety, I also mean safety from Indian troops.

Anyway, coming to the point, the article by Shoma Chaudhury in Tehelka called Listen to the stones is a prime example of what Maharashtrians call “patya takane” as in, doing something because we should do it. And because it is a cover story in a magazine generally considered to be eye opening, it makes it necessary for someone to question it.

I am not disputing any data from the article. I am disputing the journalism of it. The article could have been yet another of many articles describing the plight of the Kashmiris, which is completely true, and legitimate, and the culprits in the Indian Army must be shot, etc etc, BUT for the date, and some things in the article. Shoma talks eloquently about the Kashmiris, which I now, very sarcastically think of as a career skill rather than genuine awakening to another’s plight because she seems unable to get over her inertia to explore the new directions in Kashmir she herself is describing, choosing instead to re-emphasize an age old dysfunctional status quo.

People don’t read Tehelka to get tourist info, or history. They read Tehelka to get what’s happening on the bleeding edge (unfortunate pun). The stone pelting riots happened and they have been covered all over, including in Tehelka, including by Shoma herself. Their causes have been talked about. There is a sickening but necessary-to-see series of videos by Tehelka themselves about the atrocities. It took courage to produce it. Not journalistic courage, because India still has press freedom (unlike some developed countries), but human courage, to keep seeing that devastation over and over and still document it rigorously, so that the world can know and something can be done.

I watched it, wishing I didn’t. Not because there is anything wrong with the series – its a magnificent piece of documentation of what Kashmiris are going through, but because there is so much pain, its unbearable. I saw it, because if I call them my brothers and they live it, the least I can do if I claim to care is watch it. It is ghastly. Indian Army has done some very wrong things in that place. Established. She could simply have linked to that history. It was sitting ready – a remarkable job in journalism.

Instead, she spends about 70% of this article (likely more – I’m being cautious in case they do respond to this) talking about it. On the other hand, people reading newspapers know that there are many things that have happened since that shake that status quo. Recordings asking for protestors deaths were old. Not important for Tehelka apparently, but we know any way.

But more importantly, the government was changing on Kashmir. THIS is the story – and it is a story of hope, which I have several times mentioned before, seems to be a journalistic taboo – “if there is cynicism possible, don’t get into hope”. In fact, the bleeding edge of the success story or disappointment story – however it pans out. She knows this. She mentions it.

It took 110 dead boys for India to send a high-profile all-party delegation to the Valley. Still, Kashmiris counted it as a soothing gesture. Suddenly the stone-pelting stopped: Perhaps too many boys had already been arrested (the official police estimate is 2,219); perhaps the immediate upsurge had exhausted its shelf-life; perhaps the pelters’ “handlers” were persuaded to call for a temporary break. Or perhaps, people’s expectations just went up: What would India concede?

This is where the story was, if one needs a map still.

But she follows it with the canned commentary. Doesn’t she GET IT? We KNOW the atrocities. We’d like to know what’s happening NOW?

The atrocities have happened before the all party delegation. Before the interlocutors. Before the stone pelting stopped. Sure, people will remember them for the next century or more, and that IS India’s shame, but isn’t news about the meaning the new happenings hold in the common man’s mind, even if it is “been there, done that”?

Such reporting does more damage than good. It obfuscates the significance of change. It misinforms by implication, though she doesn’t call the abuses current. I am not saying that there aren’t abuses happening currently, but current reporting containing an entire laundry list is pretty heavy baggage that makes people feel helpless rather than involved.

There is a line between journalism and activism, and it seems to have been crossed not for any cause, but out of inertia. If only it were crossed concsiously even, it could have engaged the energy it generated rather than throw it in the reader’s face – “much has happened, nothing has changed. You know these stories, right? Here they are again. This place doesn’t register change.”

That is not true. It is the writer not registering change.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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