January 17, 2012 , Herald

Dilnaz Boga, known for her in-depth coverage of Indian-administered Kashmir, a region she has covered for a decade, is currently working for the Mumbai-based newspaper Daily News & Analysis (DNA). Her investigative work on Kashmir won the AFP’s Kate Webb Prize in 2011. She has also worked for the Srinagar-based website Kashmir Dispatch as well as the Hindustan Times.

Talking about her work, Boga says she has “concentrated on conflicts on resources all over India. I studied the Kashmir conflict academically and was more interested in its biased/managed representation on the mainstream media, and hence decided to pay more attention to it.” She has also made a documentary, Invisible Kashmir — The Other Side of Jannat, exploring the impact of violence on Kashmir’s children. Here the Herald talks to her about the region and the difficult conditions under which journalists do their job.

Q. Last year, the Indian government allowed Amnesty International to visit Kashmir for the first time since the start of the insurgency. Recently, there has been official acknowledgement of the presence of mass graves. Why do you think the government is finally agreeing to investigate claims of abuse?
A. So far, the government, through the SHRC [State Human Rights Commission] has only covered north Kashmir. The investigating police officer faced many difficulties during investigation, logistically. Despite evidence in local media and a national paper, the SHRC has not bothered to investigate graves in south and central Kashmir. Instead, the whole debate is being hijacked by the government when they talk about Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In order to skirt the issue of the mass graves, they are playing with people’s sentiments by periodically bringing up AFSPA. No concrete steps have been taken to explore the other graves. I hope they don’t shift the bodies like we have seen in Bosnia.

Q. Is there reason to hope that the abuses may abate or that the militarisation of Kashmir may decrease? 
A. Demilitarisation is required in Kashmir – in India, Pakistan and in China. The conflict has gone on for over six decades, and there has been no international intervention. None of these countries are willing to give up power and have managed to associate this struggle for self-determination to issues of nationalism and religion. The people’s movement on the Indian side of Kashmir has gone on despite the loss of thousands of lives. Unless concrete steps are taken at meting out justice to the people and giving them their universal rights, the situation might not change. It is difficult to expect the perpetrator to deliver justice. There can be no peace without it.

Q. Kashmir has a two-decade long history of struggle and abuse. Yet, as you said in a 2010 interview when you tried to research on children in Kashmir you couldn’t find any material while there was plenty available on children in Palestine and Africa? Why this blackout? 
A. Academically, there’s plenty going on internationally as far as Kashmir goes. But in India, there has been government propaganda and the conflict has been dubbed as a pan-Islamic struggle which is untrue. It’s probably why people choose to stay away and lap up the state version without ever questioning it. There have been fake encounters and the guilty have gone scot-free. There was a one hour encounter a few months ago where a mentally-challenged man, a Hindu, was declared an Islamic militant. Weapons and Pakistani currency were found on him. No one from the press questioned that. Eventually, two members of the security forces were arrested for having killed him for monetary incentives by the state. These stories never make it to news and the state propaganda is never challenged. These are some of the reasons why the blackout has continued. If one questions this, it is looked upon as anti-national.

Q. At another point you have said that friends at home have a hard time believing the extent of abuse in Kashmir at the hands of state authorities. What is the reason for this and how can it be addressed? 
A. The reasons give above can be applied here too. This can only be addressed if journalists do their jobs without being a mouthpiece of the state. Facts and figures need to be challenged. It’s far from easy as journalists in the [Kashmir] Valley face daily violence for doing their job. The national media needs to step up and introspect on its role in the conflict and refuse to be used for propaganda. More researchers need to flock to the Valley and examine the long-term effects of militarisation and tell the truth about what India is responsible for.

Q. Would you agree that the issue of Kashmir doesn’t feature on the world’s radar as much as it should? 
A. There are economic interests at play here. India is getting rich quickly at the cost of its poor. The world economy is in the dumps. Who would want to ruin their chances by picking a bone with one of the most dynamic markets? It’s simple — they [the international community] turn away when human rights are violated and we look away when they break the rules. It’s a convenient democracy. Last year, over 120 unarmed children and teenagers, the youngest being eight, were gunned down in the streets [of Kashmir] for protesting, and three months later the UN chief asked India to show restraint. This is outrageous. A year later, no one has been brought to book for the murders. Instead, the government compensated some victims. If these children were shot as they were perceived to be “enemies of the state,” then why did the government compensate them? No one is asking these questions. This is murder. If this happened in Mumbai, there’d be scores of candlelight marches for the victims.

Q. What are the challenges of reporting from Kashmir, in terms of freedom of movement, access to victims of abuse? Is there pressure to self-censor? 
A. The challenges are immense. Photographers, videographers and reporters are targeted daily for covering news events. During curfew, movement is always problematic. A few weeks ago, a cameraman from the Associated Press and two local photographers were assaulted by security forces for doing their job. Last year, a reporter uploaded a video on Facebook where three boys were chased and killed in someone’s backyard. He was targeted by the police. Journalists who reported for Al Jazeera’s Kashmir page were also roughed up and intimidated by the forces. This is what happens in a militarised state. Where do you complain when the law-keepers become the lawbreakers? What can one expect in a state where the top police brass has been implicated in fake encounters and the illegal sale of weapons; and where the culture of impunity has been the order of the day for over two decades?

Q. Which stories would you like to work on in the future? 
A. I work for a newspaper in Mumbai. It makes sense to work on in-depth stories that explore systemic issues that can be fixed in Mumbai and outside. The excuse that journalists usually hear that “This happens in all countries,” is not good enough. Unless you highlight the issues through stories and then debate them, they are not going to fix themselves. This is our job. Criticism and dissent are an inalienable right if this is a democracy. Let’s not settle for a democracy of convenience. I’m interested in pursuing stories on conflict over resources, environment, minority issues, human rights and women’s and children’s issues.

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