In conflict areas such as Jammu and Kashmir, the media gets squeezed into a tight spot, is subjected to different pulls of political arm twisting and often offers a divisive discourse rather than playing the bridging role, said Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin on Thursday at a session on Women in Conflict Zones at the National Consultation on Women and Media organised by the government’s High Level Committee on the Status of Women.
Ms. Bhasin felt it is important to locate how the media is positioned within the State. Between the three narratives of India’s nationalist interest, Pakistan’s nationalist interest and the Kashmiri nationalist interest the human element often gets diluted. This is further reinforced by inherent societal prejudices and the landlocked geography of the region, which results in a lack of gender sensitivity.
The editor recalled the incidents of sexual violence in village Kunan Poshpura in 1991 and in Shopian in 2009 that are “etched deeply in the psyche of women in this militarised zone”. She said that apart from being symbols of vulnerability of women, the Press Council report on Shopian had not helped.
Syeda Afshana, who has been teaching media students in Kashmir for a decade, said that though women are now more visible in the classroom and also as journalists, there is a serious lack of them in the peace process. In the same way there is less coverage of women within the social dynamics of change and conflict, whether it is about widows, rape survivors, husbands missing or orphaned girls. She recommended that conflict sensitive reporting should be such that it does not escalate the violence and instead tries to achieve conflict transformation.
Adivasi journalist from Jharkhand, Dayamani Barla felt that for villagers fighting for their land, forest and water rights their region was the conflict zone. While the national media focuses on women when sexual violence takes place, it fails in covering the most important social issues such as majority of women being anaemic and children with malnutrition. She said that there was a need to understand that the rural population also wanted progress, but not at the cost of serious violations of community rights.
Teresa Rehman, who runs online newsmagazine Thumbprint that focuses on the North East region, felt that those reporting from this conflict zone are mostly left to their own devices by media managements. She said the region was ghettoised as a monolith and out of the radar of the national media. Only myths and stereotypes appear on the region. She gave the example of the shooting incident against Arunachal Times Associate Editor Thongam Rina and the trauma she is still experiencing in the face of complete lack of a support system. “We don’t have a uniform media, but there is a uniform media curriculum for students,” she said recommending that media training must incorporate local issues so that future journalists know how to deal with what is going to happen in their area, especially if it is a conflict zone.
The two-day National Consultation saw participation of women journalists from all over the country. The valedictory function was marked by the presence of senior and young journalists looking back and at the future. Among others, the most noted was veteran journalist Usha Rai who related her 50 years in the profession and how the scenario had changed for women. “There were two kinds of biases that the early woman journalists had to confront — that of their male colleagues who questioned their seriousness and ability to do a ‘man’s job’ and that of parents who insisted that even if they worked in a newspaper they must return home before sunset,” she said pointing out that though women in English journalism have gone far, their regional language counterparts are still struggling for rights and recognition.