Arnab Chatgate: How race for TRPs threatened lives of Kashmiri Muslims

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On Valentine’s day in 2019, my cousin and I were at the Wave Mall in Jammu to watch the movie, Gully Boy. We heard about the Pulwama attack soon after we had come out from the movie hall, unaware of the impending attack on our lives in Jammu, far from Pulwama.

I was at my rented place in Gujjar Nagar, a Muslim majority area in the old city of Jammu. The next morning, 15 February 2019, I woke up to strange noises outside. I was about to leave for college when I noticed that I had missed about fifty calls from my parents and extended family. Initially, I thought a family emergency had occurred but what I heard on the phone, surprised me. 

My family was watching the news. Anchors screamed that a Kashmiri boy had carried out a suicide attack on a paramilitary convoy. Forty personnel were killed in the attack. It was tragic because neither Islam nor humanity allows one to carry out a suicide attack. What was even more tragic was that these news anchors were blaming ordinary Kashmiris.

The venom they spewed from their air-conditioned studios had a direct impact on me. I had suddenly become the public’s enemy, held responsible for an act far from me and done by someone I didn’t know. Jammu was a second home to me but that day I felt an alien and a criminal in this new reality imposed upon us by India’s television studios.

I was forced to leave Jammu for being a Kashmiri Muslim.

The one television studio that stood out was Arnab Goswami’s Republic. Two years later, as Goswami’s chat with the then CEO of the television ratings agency BARC, Partho Dasgupta, on the Pulwama attack has become public — it makes my blood boil.

I have heard that politics is done over dead bodies but I’d never imagined that the Indian television anchors would use the death of their own troops for TRPs. “This attack we have won like crazy,” he wrote to Dasgupta, apparently referring to his channel’s audience share.

The noises suddenly grew shriller just as I had stepped out that day; inside, it was muffled and betrayed the intensity of the mob outside. I hurried up to the roof to get a better idea of what was going on. The sky was filled with plumes of black smoke. Down below, vehicles with registration plates belonging to the Valley were being torched by Hindu mobs.

High on nationalism and charged with a new found hatred for Kashmiri Muslims, courtesy of these television anchors, the mob had marched towards Gujjar Nagar. They threw stones at our glass windows, torched our vehicles. I was reminded of the 1947 massacre in Jammu — when about 250,000 Muslims were killed and several thousands more were displaced. That massacre changed Jammu’s demography and reduced Muslims to a minority.

It was a Friday and we took turns to offer prayers while guarding our neighborhood. We prayed for divine help. The women, too, prayed loudly. I realized that no one was coming to our rescue. We were joined by Muslims from neighboring areas after the prayers. Together we defended Gujjar Nagar and turned the mob back from the Sher-e-Kashmir bridge. 

But it didn’t end there.

Television anchors in India had left no stones unturned to portray Kashmiris as the enemy. They fought for TRPs, we fought for our lives and to fend off the attack on women in Gujjar Nagar. Faced with an imminent threat to our lives from the mob, we gathered to resist the battle waged against us from television studios.— the mob was thousands strong, we were merely a hundred. I felt like a rookie craftsman thrown in the middle of the Colosseum against mighty Roman fighters.

Kashmiris were threatened — and attacked — wherever they were in India. My friends who were studying in SRM University, Ghaziabad had to move to Zakir Nagar in New Delhi. Kashmiris were being hounded, forced to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

Another friend in Dehradun had to apply a teeka on his forehead, a marker of Hindu identity,  before attempting to make his way to the offices of Khalsa Aid, through the mobs of Hindu extremists. In the same city, several Kashmiris were forced by their college authorities to vacate the hostels. Yet another friend was beaten by a mob in Haryana. 

There was a dire need for unity after the attack and the Indian public was uniting — but this unity was to force a division.

Back in Jammu we also decided to leave but stopped after we heard rumors that a Muslim driver was burnt alive in Udhampur. It sent shivers down our spines. We stayed put in Jammu’s Muslim majority areas, reassured by the solidarity shown by the locals. Soon, Kashmiris fleeing other parts of India began to arrive here.

When we again decided to leave, we couldn’t do so in broad daylight because Udhampur is on the way home, to the Doda district, and we feared encountering a mob. The buses and private vehicles heading for Kashmir (Doda falls on the same route) were instructed to leave Bathindi at 2 am, in the dead of the night. We managed to reach home safely but this communal riot has left a deep impact on us — it lingers on even two years later.

The attack and its aftermath propelled by the television studios have changed many lives, impacted many friendships, and left a deep psychological impact on everyone. I still ask myself if I should blame the Hindu mobs for attacking and forcing us to flee Jammu or those television anchors that depicted us as the enemy?

I blame the television anchors for benefitting from our misery, and for dividing the public. The media in India has set the stage for not only chipping democracy away but also polarising the public along the Hindu-Muslim divide. 

For me, Jammu doesn’t feel like home anymore. I’m saying this with a heavy heart: Muslims are not safe in Jammu.

The author is a Jammu-based graduate of earth sciences from the MAM College, Jammu.

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