“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Afshana attempts to look at the world through a window framed by a mirror

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women’s College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

Kashmir offers an example

’Strange friend,’ I said,
‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None,’ said that other,
‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness.
Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also;
…I am the enemy
you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark:
for so you frowned
Yesterday through me
as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands
were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…’
(Wilfred Owen)

Are people of Kashmir scoffed at the current situation? Troubled at the ceaseless chaos? Disturbed over the unjustified edicts? Concerned about those getting targeted? Empathized for the victims? Politically annoyed?

Maybe yes. That’s why they protest!

However, before venturing out for that, there is a big question: how?

We have examples of protests that turned into historical events. Where the power of people proved paramount. Their forceful voice faltered empires and kingdoms. After all, what shook Berlin Wall or swamped Tiananmen Square was nothing but the cogent wave of people who knew what to ask and how to demand.

To have the voice of voiceless heard, ‘protest’ is considered as a kind of direct political action, aimed at mobilizing public opinion against a particular policy. Designed for filtering down the ideas and viewpoints to popular levels, it is also linked with ‘political resistance’ to suggest a diversity of planned out agitation. And therefore, it remains to be the only political action that power usually does not succeed to crush.

Of course, westerners have devised various forms of protest from human-chain, vigil, stunts to sit-ins. However, comparing the same with our situation seems irrelevant, given the huge gulf in systems of governance and socio-political set up.

With the advent of Television News Channels, the protest and the form of protest has assumed much importance. The visual impact and coverage has a multiplier effect in mobilizing public opinion and creating awareness. Hence, the responsibility of media, especially these channels, in such reportage has increased manifold.

It may not be mistaken as an attempt to control the mass media but certain self-regulatory mechanisms are in place in developed nations, and this is the bare minimum that can be asked for to have some sort of accountability from such organizations while handling burning issues that have a direct bearing on the life of common man.

In fact, commoners are the ones who alone have to pay the price of protest. They are the ones who shout and suffer, dare and die. Baffled by the complex and invisible forces, they fall to their designs. Such is the enigmatic appeal of messages and interpretations, that they ignite passion and raise the tempo of even those who would ordinarily take time to form an opinion.

In this age of Information Explosion, it’s really hard to form an informed, balanced and objective opinion about public issues, where sources of information are numerous, and the stake-holders (in addition to those who are apparent) are ever busy maneuvering events the way it suits them. As such, it is equally vital to give credence to sources that are somewhat impeccable, trying to sort out the actual from the chaff.

People of Kashmir are not new to such situations where the public anger over an issue that appears to be genuine has been presented in a manner that would brand the protestors as a bunch of zealots nursing grouse against a community being intolerant and blah blah. The coverage given by Indian TV Channels is a reminder of their long-drawn sick partiality towards reporting Kashmir, no matter how much “liberal” their image may be.

Further, there are certain groups working all the time to gain mileage from mass protests and public outcry to garner whatever for the fulfillment of their ultimate desire viz usurping of power and its perpetuation. Their inferences about such instances are ludicrous and blatantly far-fetched. The way Jammu is burning is a case in point. The media projection has been disgustingly lopsided, exacerbating the situation by blowing it out of proportion.

The reality is that getting together to yell slogans, pelt stones or smash vehicles including medical ambulances, sporadic rioting does not qualify as a protest. It erupts out disorderly, just to be identified and recalled as a sheer blurring of historical memory. The events in Jammu may succeed in pressurizing people at the helm of affairs, but the ugly face of rioters there can trigger a turning point in the annals of the State.

As far Kashmir, street has been the most gripping battleground. There is a sad history of peaceful marches and demos drawing a blank, and contrarily being muzzled ruthlessly. As such, protest compulsively became synonymous to a raucous rally or a group of outraged people kicking up a row. Nonetheless, this time around protests in Valley came up with a substantial programme that was explicit, besides being organized purely to achieve its objective. A planned way of registering disapproval was highly accepted by the masses than getting self-destructively rowdy. It was seemingly essential to guard against elements who tried to hijack this protest and colorize it the wrong way.

At the same time, the protest of this kind was not to be allowed to degenerate into any kind of communal rioting which would have been simply playing in to the hands of those who were out to malign the majority populace of Kashmir. Fortunately, it has not happened, so far. The protestors in Kashmir have set an exemplary tenor.

However, there was a need to realize that while the protests are necessary, there is, as well, more to improving civil society than mere noisy political activism. This could not happen. There was no serious effort to encourage inter-dialogue within conflicting communities. Kashmir missed out on this to be ammo that would strike at the intellectual lassitude of its society. And perhaps, it might have averted the communal forces to target Jammu and there were perceptible chances of forestalling the prevailing situation out there. The protests in Kashmir are seen as an unexpected spontaneity. The same cannot be held true for Jammu where things have crossed the confines of civilized resentment.

Scenario as of now suggests that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is sliding into a mysterious cauldron. All is not well. A baggage of hopelessness, despair and hatred is deepening. No denying that there is a cause to mourn. A reason to remonstrate. A position to register protest. But all with good sense and judgment!