Recently (Oct 2014) TimesNow published a picture of ISIS flags on their facebook page with a caption ‘ISIS flags raised in Kashmir after friday prayers around Jamia Masjid’. In a J&K focused facebook group, Moderate Voice of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, one member correctly observed that the picture was actually not from Kashmir but rather a doctored version of a picture shot in Iraq. She termed this as an act of propaganda by TimesNow. The word Propaganda has a derogatory dictionary meaning ‘information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.’
The use of word propaganda was vigorously challenged by other members who defended TimesNow action of using a syndicated photo and editing out it’s surroundings to reduce the composition practically to just the ISIS flag. This group was willing to accept TimesNow made a mistake of publishing the wrong picture but expressed chagrin at the ‘propaganda’ charge since the news was indeed accurate. In the ensuing discussion – no one denied that ISIS flags were raised, no one defended the action, and both groups expressed concern about this development. Yet, the two groups engaged in the discussion with diametrically different perspectives. First group focused on the impact such stories have on broader perception that gets built about Kashmir and it’s implications to Kashmir where their family and loved ones live. Every minor detail matters and even a speck of reporting inaccuracy is stark. This group comprised almost entirely of Kashmiri muslims (moderate/secular to the bone) who have a totally different level of interaction with other Kashmiri muslims – including those with separatist leanings – and a different level of sensitivity. Their antenna picks up different signals and is possibly better at picking apart bluster from reality. The other group focused on the dangers of growing fundamentalism in Kashmir and every non-secular act weighs same as straw that broke camel’s back. Lack of antenna is compensated by a radar that is better at predicting meteors that could turn out to be asteroids.
Few months earlier there was another controversy over a planned pilgrimage to KosurNaag. Many Kashmiri Muslims along secular-fundamentalist spectrum saw sinister forces behind revival of this yatra and the Govt. caved in under vehement protests of fundamentalists . Many Kashmiri Pandits, including those who do/did not care about the yatra per se, perceived this as deliberate trampling of their religious sentiments by Kashmiri muslim community.
What’s going on?
In early sixties a white male disguised himself as african-american/black and travelled across segregationist American south. As a black man (in disguise) he was able to notice difference in social interactions (with both whites and blacks) in a very nuanced manner. In other words social forces around him began transmitting signals that his antenna could now pick up. He published his experiences in a book titled ‘Black Like Me’ to highlight difficulties blacks faced in segregationist America and even many well meaning whites were not able to perceive.
I’ve noticed a similar phenomena among Kashmiri people. The trauma of ethnic cleansing and scorched earth tactics to deal with militancy and separatism has sadly reduced our emotional antennas to a single frequency. To hear a different, joyful, song – we need to be willing to occasionally switch to a different frequency.