My experiences at Pahalgam Summit

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As the continuously jerking bus we are sitting in scuttles ahead on faintly-lit metallic road running and winding along the roaring Lidder River, Kalyani Prasher blurts out her mind– “I could have never imagined myself travelling in Kashmir in this much dark of a night. This is different.” I hear this and feel 
somewhat startled. How can she read my mind? Is she some kind of a clairvoyant or what! Because I am sure if Kalyani wouldn’t have uttered those words, those would have been my words a couple of moments later.
It is almost 9 o’clock in the evening, or rather night. I look ahead of me and then behind me. Nirupama Dutt seems busy looking out of window, and so are Rafat Quadri, Ghulam Pathan and Rajesh Sharma sitting in back rows. May be, some of them are already lost in similar thought with their gaze directed nowhere, and some are trying to lose themselves in the almost musical babbling of the crystal clear Lidder waters.
But I am sure of one thing- no one is afraid, no one is apprehensive. A sense of relaxation is sprayed all over each face in the bus. This is in stark contrast to the image I have of Kashmir in my mind- the unsafe heaven. And the image largely owes to the superficial media, for whom negative news that has a capacity to create sensation is the only news. And interestingly, this is the very milieu we are going to dwell in for the next two days. We are presently going to the town of Pahalgam where a media summit is going to be held, highlighting media’s role in perceiving and projecting Kashmir the way they do, and their effect on Kashmir’s economy and thus the native populace.  
A little while ago, we were at a farmhouse in Ganishpora, owned by Dr. Javed Ahmad Mir. That was our first brush with Kashmiri hospitality. We had been greeted there by Dr. Mir himself, his two sons – the renowned astronomer Dr. Mir Faisal and Mir Qaiser, and their friend Ishaaq. It had meant to be a brief halt, but nonetheless stretched longer than expected over cups of salted butter tea and Kashmiri bread served to us by our hosts.
There, we had inadvertently got into a discussion about the recent Srinagar NIIT row and the way national media pounced on it and projected it. Dr. Faisal had put across a valid point- the row was given wide coverage by media and they projected it as a national issue, but nobody cared to mention the calm and camaraderie that existed among the students before and after the incident. And then, Dr. Javed had quipped in, saying, “The media love to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
With that discussion in mind and this personal experience of travelling through the valley during night time, a basic premise for the media summit tomorrow has been outlined in my mind- ‘the media have to play a more constructive and sensitized role with a balanced approach in selecting and delivering information, and should not act as mere business establishments to sell sensations with a view to increase their TRPs or sales.’
***

Today is the second day of our Kashmir visit, and we are already a part of the initial proceedings of media summit inside the convention centre of Pahalgam Club, where it is being organized by Lehar the NGO. This is the second version of annual media summit in Kashmir by Lehar, the first one having taken place at Srinagar a year ago.
Out of us six visiting journalists to the summit, Nirupama has delivered her views as a keynote speaker. She emphasizes on the beauty and grandeur of Kashmir and Kashmiri culture, and calls upon media to observe a meaningful approach to preserve and highlight the positive aspects of this paradise on earth. She delivers her views in the most poetic way I have ever come across, and deep inside I know she has hit home.
Now, it rests with us remaining five journalists who are going to be on a panel to discuss the issue. It is going to be a live interaction with audience too. Tough job, I say to myself. But, who better than media persons themselves to discuss loopholes in the very industry they are associated with! Among the other panelists are a hotelier and a local educationist.
The impact of ‘negative news’ is quite evident; it has undoubtedly hampered tourism in the valley. Who on this earth will like to go to a place by risking his life from where there are always news of unrest, disruption, violence and insurgency? We all seven panelists agree to this fact. In an area where major source of revenue is tourism, there are going to be voices raised against any information that negatively impacts this industry.
The local panelists stress upon an urgent need to sensitize the mainstream media about Kashmir and bring forward its positive aspects also. True enough. But the question remains, how? Surely, media cannot just stop reporting the ‘bad’ incidents, and the helplessness of the 24x7 format of news is that they have to keep blabbering about such incidents in the want of positive stories.
We journalists on the panel are aware of this harsh reality, but more or less agree as well that this situation can be countered or overcome only by dispatching out positive stories from Kashmir and making them reach to a wider audience through social media.
As Kalyani rightly puts it- the positive news and touching human stories have to come from Kashmir only. While Rafat stresses upon a wider use of social media to let such stories reach prospective tourists, Rajesh proposes to turn to vernacular media for disseminating such information, which commands wider reach and impact as compared to English media or TV news channels. At the same time, I choose to highlight a need to lay bare the realities of Kashmir to a larger segment of representatives from mainstream media by inviting them to the valley and making them a part of some meaningful intellectual discourse, like we are at this moment, and also letting them feel first-hand the beauty of the land and the warmth of its people.
As panel discussion progresses and interaction with the young audience ensues, a fact comes to fore that an average Kashmiri youth wants to be heard and his views to be regarded. There is a certain hint of anger simmering beneath those warm smiles, which, I comprehend, stems from a long haul of unemployment and a feeling of having been denied what they deserved. This is the generation that was borne after 1990 and has grown under shadow of guns and smelled the gunpowder; they have not witnessed the Kashmir that was once flocked by tourists and flourished with the money those tourists brought with them to the valley.
At tea break, I contemplate how life of an ordinary Kashmiri will change and that hint of anger will be replaced with happiness, once the tourism touches its previous peaks. And the onus lies much on the mainstream media. There have to be enough positive human-interest stories to outweigh the reports of ‘bad’ incidents in the valley, and there have to be enough amounts of effort to spread such stories through social media.
***
While I am writing this reportage seven days later in Mumbai, I come across a story from Kashmir on Facebook, shared by Raavi Sandhu, the smiling M.Phil student from Patiala, who was also there at the summit as a moderator. This heart-touching story is about a Kashmiri Muslim offering his house to a Kashmiri Pandit family that had migrated long ago to Hyderabad. This story presents the human face of Kashmir which otherwise remains obliterated in media. But this story is published on a Kashmiri website, which I fear is largely unknown outside Kashmir. Here, the role of mainstream media becomes important. And we don’t have to forget that ‘Good begets good’. More you spread such stories, more such incidents will start happening. Not to forget the positive image it will create of Kashmir on the minds of other Indians.


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