Kashmir's angry youths spurn 'biased' Indian media

Thousands of Kashmiris have gone online to tell their side of the story while the government has muzzled local media.

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NEW DELHI // While the Indian government has restricted Kashmiri media from freely reporting on the ongoing unrest, which erupted on June 11 after the killing of a 17-year-old protester by India security forces, thousands of young people are posting the latest developments on social networking sites. "Curfew re-imposed in Islamabad, Pulwama, Kakapora, and Maisuma, valley witnesses' complete shutdown, clashes reported in many parts of Kashmir," reads a Facebook status update by Danish Rizwan, a student from Srinagar.

Like thousands of other internet users from Kashmir, Mr Rizwan, 20, is outraged by the way he perceives Indian radio and televeision stations and newspapers are reporting the current round of violence and unrest. He accuses the Indian media of bias and favouring anti-Kashmiri nationalism over their obligation to report truthfully. "The Indian media takes a biased approach while reporting the present Kashmir unrest. From day one when a school boy was killed they started blaming Lashkar-i-Taiba [militants], Pakistan and other elements for the unrest without evidence or proof, and supported the killing of Kashmiris at the hand of the Indian police forces," he said.

Threes youth were killed in Islamabad district of south Kashmir on June 29. The government and the Indian media initially reported that they were killed when police were attacked by stone throwers. On July 1, a video shot by some unknown person was released on Facebook and Youtube. It punctured the government's version of events, and the authorities then admitted that none of three were throwing stones.

In response to this, Mr Rizwan says, thousands of Kashmiris have gone online to tell their side of the story while the government has muzzled local media. Since Wednesday more than 50 local newspapers have stopped publishing as the government cancelled the curfew passes issued to the newspaper staff to carry out their duties. Last month, the government stopped SMS texting in the entire valley and blocked mobile phone services in north Kashmir, with an aim to stop rumors and flow of information.

"We know media has the power to shape the opinion of people, and the Indian media through its biased reporting is misleading millions of viewers in India and across the world, who otherwise would force the Indian government to stop the innocent killings in Kashmir", Mr Rizwan said. The current unrest in Kashmir began in June when Taufeeq Matoo was shot dead by policemen in downtown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Fifteen civilians died in subsequent protests across the disputed province, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. The government imposed a curfew in the valley and called the Indian army onto the streets for the first time since 1995 to bring the situation under control.

New Delhi blames Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-i-Taiba for instigating the widespread protests in Kashmir. But the general belief in the valley itself, and among many Indian security analysts, is that the mass protests are indigenous and no external force is instigating people to come on to the streets. The separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has in the past engaged in talks with the Indian government for a political resolution, castigated the Indian media for branding peaceful protesters as mobs paid off by militants.

This week an alleged mobile phone conversation between members of the Kashmiri separatist group Hurriyat Conference was aired by many Indian news channels. The channels claimed the duo was saying, "Ten to 15 more protesters must die during fresh protests". But soon the internet was abuzz with Kashmiris circulating the actual transcript of the conversation, showing that it was all a desperate act by the government to convince protesters to give up.

"This is a mere propaganda by the government to divert the attention of world and to malign the protesters," commented, Muiz Qadri on the Facebook page of Delhi-based news channel NDTV 24x7. Journalists working in Kashmir claim that the Indian government has severely curbed their ability to report. Umar Baba, a senior correspondent with Srinagar-based daily Rising Kashmir, says media organisations do not trust their local reporters so they send non-local journalists who come in helicopters and government planes.

"They are also called 'chopper reporters' in local language. They have all the privileges from the government and get free access to any part of the valley, when local journalists are not allowed to step out of their offices," said Umar. Journalists working for local newspapers and TV channels have also been at the receiving end of police violence. Last week 15 local journalists, and one from the BBC, were beaten by police and Indian paramilitary forces, according to police and media reports. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae