Indian media must stop selling J&K as Kashmir

The curious choice of language employed by the media when talking about Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was highlighted as they commented on the recent internet ban in the state. The state-wide e-curfew caused much inconvenience to all, though some believed that it was justified since its intent was to prevent communal tensions and maintain law and order.

As J&K resurfaced on the digital map, senior journalists in the country tweeted about it. They referred to it as a ban in the Valley, causing much furore in social media amongst the people of Jammu. Even Ladakhis pointed out that they had no internet for three days.

A ban which was enforced in the entire state and its three regions – being mentioned as one for the Valley alone – is factually incorrect and dangerous. Some journalists have, time and again, on television declared their special relationship with Kashmir and one wonders if that is what clouds their objectivity and wider perspective on the state.

Kashmiri newspapers labelling it as a “Kashmir” internet ban does not come as a surprise, but when the national media mirrors that language, people from Jammu and Ladakh are forced to ask if it is discrimination, indifference or just plain ignorance. It is hard to believe that the national media is not mindful of the plurality of the state and the politics which affects all its ethnic communities and especially its minorities – the Dogras, Kashmiri Pandits, Buddhists and Shias. When people in power and position repeatedly use irresponsible language and confuse geographies it’s hard not to wonder if it is by design.

J&K, which is nearly the size of France, extended from the subcontinental plains to the Pamirs. Its topography distributes people of various ethnicities, language, culture and faiths into neat segments. Jammu, the Dogra stronghold is situated in the southern foothills. The Dogra King, Maharaja Gulaab Singh, and his generals extended the Dogra sovereignty upto the Pamirs and Tibet. They united and held together the fragmentary land and extended the boundaries of the Empire upto Central Asia.

The Kashmir Valley occupies less than ten per cent of the area of the state. The northern areas were home to Shias and Ismalias. Ladakh along with Tibet is inhabited by Lamaistic Buddhists. Jammu province is home to Dogras, both Hindus and Sunni Muslims. Its western strip has Sunni Muslims of the same stock as the Punjabi Muslims across the border. Kashmir has majority Sunni Muslims along with Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits. The Valley has been almost cleansed of its original inhabitants – the Pandits – most of whom now live in exile in India and abroad.

The fact that we are still not very well educated on the geography of the state and its regional politics has been particularly obvious to the ethnic minorities of the state. The national media is deaf to the other voices from the state. The nationalistic Jammu and Ladakh wait impatiently to be heard. Sheikh Abdullah’s cry of “Down with Dogra Dynasty” in no time had become “Down with Dogras” and the region populated by them.

Jammu is the proverbial fly on the wall gaining visibility only during elections, quickly forgotten once it is milked dry for electoral gains. Ladakh struggles to develop and shrug off the burden of historical issues and current problems the state is riddled with. Kashmir being the problem child hogs the attention and even obfuscates the identities of all the others.

Let’s get the facts right. The ban was for all three regions of the state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Few days back, earthquake tremors were felt not just in Kashmir but also in Jammu, unlike what the breaking news reported. The Pakistani terrorist was not caught in Kashmir, as initial reports suggested, but in Udhampur district of Jammu province. Most of the border villages that lie between 80mm artillery shells and the rest of the country are located in Jammu province.

Ladakh suffered severe damages in the recent floods and is still struggling to crawl back to normalcy. Inadequate reporting does not make it go away. Every person from J&K is not a Kashmiri and any dialogue on J&K without proportionate representation by all its people is ineffective. Discussions in the media over Kashmir-centric issues which are then passed off as the only issues concerning J&K are both divisive and biased.

Jawaharlal Nehru, in a note briefing Mountbatten about J&K on June 17, 1947, said, “The State consists of roughly three parts: Kashmir proper, Jammu and Ladakh (Baltistan, Skardu and Kargil).” Narinder Singh Sarila says in his book The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition that a document coming from the future prime minister that missed to mention Gilgit could have lead to an impression in London that Indian leaders had ceased to consider Gilgit as a part of J&K. This could have further emboldened Major Alexander Brown, head of Gilgit Scouts, to unfurl the Pakistani flag over northern Kashmir on November 2, 1947.

Language is important and terminology loaded. Nehru’s omission in listing Gilgit as an inseparable part of J&K was a blunder considering its strategic importance. Eventually, ended up losing a major part of the erstwhile Dogra kingdom of J&K, including Gilgit, the artery to Central Asia.

Maharaja Hari Singh’s state forces resisted the fall of Skardu for seven months without any timely help, in a semi-starved condition and with limited ammunition. The surrender by the gallant state forces came only when all ammunition was exhausted.

Not much has changed since 1947. J&K remains strategically vital, eyed by both Pakistan and China. It is probably the only Indian state discussed and debated keenly in international power corridors. Political and otherwise, it is especially vulnerable. We cannot afford any more blunders as far as J&K goes in its treatment and projection.

Kashmir is a province which along with the provinces of Jammu and Ladakh makes up the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Karan Thapar in conversation with Dr Karan Singh on a TV programme which aired in 2014, repeatedly referred to the state of Jammu & Kashmir as Kashmir. Dr Karan Singh was quick to correct him and effectively shot down Thapar’s justification of using it as a short form, as incorrect and problematic.

There can be no short cuts to describe the state. Selective treatment of its issues has lead to an increase in the angst of minorities in the state, widening the regional fault lines. Someone on social media said that Kashmir has become a business model and Jammu and Ladakh are the non-performing assets. Moderate voices from the Valley also agreed that the nation and the world views J&K as Kashmir only, forgetting Jammu and Ladakh.

Admittedly, these are times of selective literacy and one-sided narratives. The increasing anger and frustration of the state’s ethnic minorities and the international limelight on J&K make it even more important that we correct the falsehoods that are being brazenly propagated.

Nehru forgot to mention Gilgit and we ended up losing it. We cannot take light of the long term implications of being dismissive of Jammu and Ladakh. As George Bernard Shaw said, “If history repeats itself and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.”

~ Manu Khajuria