Kashmiri youth rate corruption bigger issue than human rights

Kashmiri youth rate corruption bigger issue than human rights

28 January 2012
The Daily Excelsior


New Delhi: Quite a few of J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's detractors in People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as well as members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, felt vindicated when a survey on media's impact on the Kashmiri youth was released at India International Centre on Friday. Presiding over the session, Omar Abdullah did not question the findings and, in fact, endorsed that governance related issues sometimes seemed to be dominating political spectrum across the conflict ravaged State. The first ever research and academic exercise on the subject has been conducted by New Delhi-based Institute of Research on India and International Studies (IRIIS) in the aftermath of street demonstration and violence that left over a hundred, mostly young, dead and thousands injured in the year 2010. None other than Chief Minister himself underscored an apprehension. He appreciated the survey as a significant beginning but pointed out that its sponsorship by the union Ministry of Home Affairs could prompt the cynics in Valley to attribute motives and reject its findings. Nevertheless, the IRIIS, according to him, could pave the way for a more comprehensive, more inclusive and more credible exercise on the crucial subject. Notwithstanding a heavy work schedule, Omar sat for three hours from beginning to conclusion of the panel discussion. He listened to all the three panelist-Centre's principal Interlocutor on J&K, Dileep Padgaonkar, Srinagar-based journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz and NDTV's Associate Editor Foreign Affairs, Nidhi Razdan-with rapt attention. Omar enriched the proceedings with his prompt reactions and interjections and on two occasions had virtually a heated exchange with representative of some Kashmiri Pandit outfits. One of them, Shiban Doodha of People’s Democratic Front, took umbrage on Omar's 'indifference' to the displaced diaspora's return to the Valley and shouted slogan of Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity. As the author of two books on Kashmir, Professor at Delhi University and honorary Director of IRIIS, Navnita Chadha Behera, unfolded the findings in a Power Point presentation, audiences were taken aback with surprise-pleasant as well as unpleasant. Many of those clamouring over 'human rights abuse' and revocation of AFSPA were astonished to learn that the Kashmiri youth in age group of 15-35 years, were far more concerned over governance issues than separatist politics. Most of the over 1300 youth interviewed under a survey methodology across six districts of the Valley-Baramulla, Bandipora, Srinagar, Budgam, Anantnag and Kulgam-are recorded to have rated corruption as the 'topmost important issue facing Kashmir'. According to the findings, 67% of the youth described corruption among the three top most problems. Thirty-three percent put it at rank one, 21% on rank two and 13% at rank three. Human rights violation (by police and security forces) was rated at rank one by 15% of the youth, rank two by another 15% of them and at rank three by 18%. Thus 67% of the youth put corruption among the top most problems and 48% put human rights abuse at the top. Again, 34% gave top priority to 'employment' and 28% to 'education'. Just 32% believed that 'militarization' was an important concern, fewer i.e. 21% voted for 'Kashmir's political status'. While as 72% of the youth rejected the gun, just 7% believed that gun was 'an effective option for achieving political aspirations'. Interestingly, just 1% of the youth saw Kashmir problem's final solution in its 'merger with Pakistan' (slogan of pro-Pakistan groups headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani), 1% voted for J&K's 'merger with India' (slogan of BJP and other groups based in Jammu and Ladakh) and remarkable 54% voted for Azadi. However, results were again surprising when the youth were asked what exactly they meant by 'Azadi'. Giving conflicting interpretations, 20% of them said Azadi means 'political rights'. Only 11%, out of 54%, said that Azadi was 'freedom from India'. While as 8% defined it as 'sovereign state including Azad Kashmir', 10% viewed it as 'a separate, independent State' (Only the Valley). 'Civic rights' was defined as Azadi by 14%, 'Withdrawal of Army' by 10%, 'Economic rights' by 3%, 'Political and civil rights' by 4%, 'Political and economic rights' by 2%, 'Civic and economic rights' by 2%, 'Islamic shariat' by 6% and 'Partition of Kashmir' by the highest of 30%. Five percent said that they did not want 'Azadi' and 2% refused to give any interpretation. Significantly, neither PDP's 'Self Rule' nor National Conference's 'Greater Autonomy' had been flagged as an option by conductors of the survey. It was not clear whether the definition options were the creativity of the enumerators or these had been randomly given out by the youth. Even as the youth rejected gun culture, maintained that corruption was a bigger issue than human rights abuse, they appeared to be predominantly disillusioned with both, the separatist as well as the mainstream politicians. A total of just 12% said that they had cast a vote in an election. Fewer i.e. just 5% said that they had remained associated with any political party. Significantly, as less as 9% of the youth described themselves as followers of one or the other faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference. According to the survey, local newspapers and local private television (cable) channels had more influence on the Kashmiri youth than the national newspapers and national private television (satellite) channels. It said that 57% of the Kashmiri youth were looking for Kashmir-related news in local English papers, 56% in local Urdu papers and only 10% in the national dailies. On the crucial reliability index, interviewees said that they relied more on local newspapers than on the national dailies. While as 74% of the youth said that they would regularly watch news on the Union Government-run television (Doordarshan) and Radio (All India Radio-Radio Kashmir), only 41% said that they would get news from private national television (satellite) channels. Among those 41%, NDTV stood at No1 with 68% youth viewers, Aaj Tak at No2 with 25%, IBN-7 at No 3 with 22% share, ETV Urdu at No4 with 16% and Zee News at No 5 with 14%. However, to the surprise of many among the audience, CNN-IBN did not exist in the table and Times Now TV was found among 'Others 3%'. Arguably, NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now TV, in this order, are widely rated at the top in Valley while as viewership of both the Hindi channels, Aaj Tak and Zee News, has phenomenally shrunk in the last one decade.Interestingly again, 49% of the youth said that they had been watching the local private (cable) television channels and only 41% claimed to be viewing the national private (satellite) television channels. While chairing the session and conducting the proceedings, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that inspite of the survey being 'not comprehensive', he had learned from it a great deal about media and its impact on the Kashmiri youth. He stressed on the need of a far wider discussion and more participation and suggested the IRIIS to also focus on Jammu and Ladakh regions, besides the displaced Kashmiri diaspora, in future. He revealed that IRIIS would be holding another session of discussion that would be, among others, attended by Governor N N Vohra on February 11th in Srinagar. Senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar said that during over 200 meetings with different cross-sections of people in the State, he had observed that most of them were not satisfied with the space and treatment given to the J&K news in mainstream national media. According to him, most of the young journalists, who interacted with him and his team of Interlocutors, had invariably complained of 'less coverage' to Kashmir in the national media. He emphasized that in absence of monitoring by Audit Bureau of Circulation, publishers had been claiming stupendous figures of circulation which required to be checked for promotion of genuine media. Srinagar-based journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz said that the people of Kashmir as well as journalists were mature enough to understand that coverage in mainstream media was not essentially proportional to a State's area or size of population. What, according to him, was lacking from New Delhi was that 'discrediting of media' in the conflict- riddled State appeared to have been adopted as a counter-insurgency tool by successive Governments at the Centre. He pointed out that in absence of rules, regulations and accountability indices, junk media had been encouraged to grow menacingly in Jammu & Kashmir in the last 22 years of armed strife. A number of 'quacks', according to him had grown up without any sensibility or knowledge of this noble profession and quite a large number of genuine and professional journalists had been either completely eclipsed or marginalized. Even criminal elements and regular Government employees of the Government had found it easy to pass off as 'journalists'. Fayyaz pointed out to Chief Minister and others in the audience that it was because of this 'free-for-all' that District Magistrates had no hesitation to recommend 'revolutionary titles' and men in the office of Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI) in New Delhi had been allotting same to their clients on receiving just a kilo of almonds. He claimed that not more than two dailies in the State had been running on profit. At the same time, distribution of Government advertisements had become lucrative business for a veritable mafia. He further pointed out that no rules and regulations were in force in operation of satellite news television channels or the local cable television networks. Fayyaz asked Chief Minister how a number of Pakistan's State and private channels were available on local cable networks in Kashmir despite being unlicensed by Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and a 'ban order' having been specially promulgated by DMs in Kashmir in September 2010. He made it clear that Pakistani channels like Geo TV were very popular in the Valley and most of the people wanted to watch them but stressed that these should have been properly registered and licensed by Ministry of I&B and then operated under provisions of Cable Television Operations (Regulation) Act of 1995. He said that despite the 'ban' by the State Government, at least 10 local channels had started so-called 'news bulletins' from Baramulla and Anantnag and Government officers, including DMs, and Cabinet Ministers were appearing on the same unauthorized channels. Referring to the IRIIS survey, Fayyaz pointed out that only 9 channels were 'registered' with DMs in J&K and they too were not authorized to run news and current affairs programmes. According to the survey as many as 25 of such channels were neither registered nor licensed even for entertainment programmes but all were operating with covert support from Government officials and politicians. He said that 'quacks' had been blackmailing hapless, ordinary residents and Government had chosen to be a mute spectator. He asserted that same unlicensed, unregistered channels, operated by non-professional people and Government employees, had immensely contributed to the mess in 2008 and 2010 street violence and provided a tool to the State to strike on genuine newspapers not toeing the Government's line. NDTV's familiar news anchor, Nidhi Razdan, expressed her concern that 'parachute journalism' had become a veritable menace in J&K. She said that a number of journalists from New Delhi had been airdashing on Srinagar and returning in a couple of days and projecting themselves as 'Kashmir experts'. She said that some others outside Kashmir had been 'poisoning' the minds of displaced Kashmiri Pandits and exploiting them emotionally. Thereupon, she was bitterly confronted by some agitated members of her community who complained that herself being a Kashmiri Pandit she owed too much to the community. Nidhi cogently contested that she had ever done a disservice to her community or been unfair to any particular section of the State's population. Lastly, she emphasized that a broader survey was required to include others people of the State and explore the aspirations of the displaced population.