Public disturbances during 2010 that resulted in some youth fatalities and, consequently, stigmatized law enforcing apparatus in the State, became catalyst to a random media survey of about 1300 youth from six districts of the valley. Under Home Ministry’s sponsorship the Institute of Research on India and International Relations (IRIIS) conducted the survey of impact of print and electronic media on Kashmiri youth in 15-35 years age group in January 2011. Recently the Institute organized under the chairmanship of State Chief Minster, a panel discussion at India International Centre, New Delhi on some notable findings of the survey report. Interventions made by three panelists representing the media came after the IRIIS delegate made power point presentation of the survey.
Very interesting and perhaps startling statistics are revealed by the survey that disproves a number of views hitherto tenaciously held by opinion makers. Notwithstanding the usual downbeat note of the cynics and skeptics, policy planners will take the survey as dependable00 indicator for future planning or policy framing in the state. This column has space constraints in stuffing the entire statistical data that has come to light. Therefore we shall have to be content with only some major findings that reveal the mind of the youth in the valley.
For 67 % of the interviewed youth, corruption is at number one of issues list, for 48% human rights, for 34 % unemployment, for 28 % education and for 32 % militarization. Only 21 % were willing to discuss Kashmir’s political status. Interestingly 72% of Kashmir youth rejected gun and gun culture which is a clear verdict against militancy related activities in the valley. Only 7 % said that the issues could be solved through gun. Only 1 % (of Ali Shah Geelanil line) voted for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, and likewise only 1 % (along BJP/RSS line) voted for India. The last stated data makes it clear that a large majority of Kashmir Valley youth reject religious extremist tendency or fundamentalism. But of course 54% spoke in favour of “azaadi”.
But when confronted with the poser what they precisely meant by “azaadi,” the responses were startlingly but not unexpectedly conflicting as well as confusing. 20% out of 54% pro-azaadi group said that it meant devolution of political rights; for 11 % it meant freedom from India; 8% opted for a sovereign J&K State including the part under Pakistan occupation; 14 % said azaadi meant civic rights and 10 % were for withdrawal of army and 3 % touched on economic rights. 5 % said they remained associated with some political party and 9 per cent were those who followed a political party. This analysis blasts the myth that all Kashmiris or a majority of them are for merger with Pakistan or for boosting of fundamentalism or indulgence in acts of violence and gun totting. The cobwebs of confusion are cleared by the survey data. The survey has been focused on the youth of a specific younger age group because those running the separatist movement usually claim to be speaking for Kashmiri youth or instigating them for acts of violence and insurgency.
We are talking of how the valley-based youth are looking at the scenario of violence and turmoil in Kashmir and what is their reaction to it. By and large, the youth in Kashmir have given expression to what an ordinary youth in any part of the country would do. Interestingly, the youth has expressed its total rejection of merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.
Pakistan has been claiming her stakes in Kashmir essentially on the basis of commonality of faith which, however, is not the defining factor with the valley youth as is reflected in the survey. Therefore one can say the IRIIS has done a commendable job by making valuable input to the fund of knowledge on current situation in Kashmir. As most of the deliberations touched on governance chapter in the state directly or indirectly, the Chief Minster in chair sat for the entire three hours of deliberations listening patiently to the media commentary and also intervening occasionally to put the record straight or to clarify a remark or a comment. Divergence of opinion at one point or the other is sequel to an animated public debate of a public affairs issue.
Though Dileep Padgaonkar, the official media representative in the deliberations corroborated most of the statistical data presented by the IRIIS spokesperson, yet it has to be made clear that the findings and report of the team interlocutors of which he was the chairperson, has nothing to do with the independent survey conducted by the IRIIS. The survey says that local newspapers and television channels are more popular with the local youth than national level media outlets. NDTV, CNN and Times Now TV channels hold first, second and third position in popularity order. But in an overall evaluation of media impact on the youth of the valley, Ali Ahmad Fayyaz made some disturbing revelations. He said in a syndrome of “free for all” junk media had vigorously surfaced in the valley thanks to nonchalant attitude of the recommending authority meaning the District Magistrate. He said that unregistered and unlicensed privately run channels were operating clandestinely but with the knowledge of the authorities. They have no accountability and no rules, regulations were in force in operation of satellite news telecasts. Despite ban imposed by the government no fewer than ten local channels had started news bulletins from Baramulla and Anantnag and government officials participated in their telecasts. Fayyaz said that though only 9 channels were registered with DMs, yet almost 25 channels had become functional without registration and license. Quacks were black mailing hapless citizens, he asserted.
This in-depth survey conducted faithfully and impartially is an eye opener for evaluating ground reality in Kashmir. Many myths have been built and promoted only to vitiate public opinion about governance and handling of situations in Kashmir. In particular, so-called pro-Pak propensity among Kashmir Valley youth hitherto forcefully articulated by people’s adversaries not only on local but on national as well as international level stands strongly discredited. Evidently, the data supplied by the survey on a large variety of peoples’ inclinations and tendencies will not only clear the cobwebs of confusion and misrepresentation but will also become a sound basis for policy planners to formulate policy paradigms and developmental plans for the State. The survey is a major breakthrough in a hardened and fossilized but very erroneous mindset on Kashmir violence syndrome.