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One of the more fascinating readings of Mirza Waheed’s acclaimed The Collaborator is its critical intervention on one of the more integral facets of the conflict in Kashmir—the role of media as a potent instrument of state treachery. The work offers us a subtle critique of the language of media propaganda particularly when it comes to the armed conflict in Kashmir. The media as evaluated in the novel is an obvious example, to use the Althusserian terminology, of state controlled ideological apparatus acting as a strong reinforcement to the repressive state apparatus which has an overawing control over people.

The novel is loaded with many descriptions in which the idiom of media is closely dissected. This is done in an attempt to show how the language of media acts as a subterfuge to cover the viciousness of military oppression. This involves the creation of a propaganda language which thrives on a subtle, but quite deliberate misleading and manipulating of various figures and facts considered essential to the memory of the struggling people. As Noam Chomsky points out in his book Media Control, in an environment of military oppression, the dominant power considers it “necessary to completely falsify history” as it seeks to justify its ways of oppressive machinations (Chomsky 35). This is usually achieved through a gradual manufacturing of “Goebbelian” opinions and manipulations through media (ibid).

Many passages in the novel are suggestive of their compelling assertions and contestations with regards to the official documentation of the Kashmiri conflict. It aims to drive home the point that the descriptions of the conflict in the official accounts have seldom echoed the happenings on the ground. As a result, many significant aspects pertaining to the conflict remain hidden to the outside world. Many significant events which happened in the early 1990s are referred to in the novel with an endeavor to re-describe and re-explore them. These events have either been distorted or not been fully rendered to the outside world, owing to the inadequacies of the official accounts of the conflict. Here, Waheed’s narrative actively engages with the question of restoring the historical memory of the oppressed Kashmiris by bringing it out of the pages of hegemonic power discourses. There are so many references to the important events which happened in the 1990s as the Kashmiri militants, struggling for liberation, and the Indian state, responding with repressive force, were locked in a bitter confrontation. Some of these tragic events are the incidents of mass-rape in Poshpora, mass massacres of Gaw Kadal and Sopore, or the fake encounters on LOC which directly resulted in the existence of mass graveyards near the border. Kunan  Poshpora  in Kupwara  is a village in North Kashmir , where more than  50  women  were  raped during a cordon and search operation by the 4th Rajputana Rifles of Indian Army  on February 21, 1991 while the men were kept in strict internment in a field. However, the government blatantly denies that any such occurrence ever took place.  In the novel, the narrator states in shock: “A brand new Minister for Kashmir Affairs from Delhi was also quoted as saying that no place by the name of Poshpur ever existed on the map”. The authorities at that time had outrightly denied that such an incident ever took place and called the allegations of the women as baseless and propaganda aimed to tarnish the image of army.

The mass killing incident of Gaw Kadal is also referred to in the novel ,in which, according to the narrator, nearly 50 people had been killed by the CRPF in broad daylight as the newspapers were full of headlines as ‘’The River of Blood” : “Young and old, men and children, dead, all dead, dead on a bridge”. The government defends the incident as: “There was a breakdown in the law and order situation and the police were forced to open fire on the out-of-control mob; as a result thirty-five people were killed”. The novel scoffs at the way an occurrence of massive human tragedy is nonchalantly trivialized as a “law and order situation”.

Whenever any armed clash takes place between the army and the militants, many deaths result, but as the narrator describes, it is played down as ‘‘a mere “skirmish”. There is also the description of fake encounters which are usually stage-managed and pictured through media. When a media team arrives from Delhi for reporting about the conflict, particularly, about the activities on the border, the Army Captain arrogantly shows off his skill of stage-managing the operations in a conversation with the narrator. After the narrator is forcibly employed by the Captain to do the job of identification of the dead bodies of both the trained militants and aspiring militants trying to cross over the border, he becomes familiar with the machinations of army in the hinterland of Kashmir.

The narrator comes to know about the actions of Indian army behind the scenes. The reality that is fed through the media is starkly different from the actual truths. The point worth mentioning here is the complicity and connivance of the media in putting up a mask of deception to hide the realities of the military oppression. Not only this, there are many other instances as portrayed in the novel which provide an inkling of how the media, in its language and functioning, attempts to dilute the reality of its essence. In scenarios like these, as philosophers and theorists like Jean Baudrillard point out: “It is the technological structure of media that affects our attitudes, feelings, and thoughts, and that the view that media can serve some ultimate emancipatory end — e.g., by being more inclusive, by offering more radical or subversive voices in the mix of programming — is simply delusional. It is also questionable whether the media information produces meaning or whether it destroys it.” (qtd. in Baudrillard’s Thoughts On Media)

Another farcical instance takes place towards the end of the novel when the Governor visits the protagonist’s village on the Republic Day of India, to address its people, who had been besieged under a strict curfew. The elderly persons, children, and the women under crackdown for three days, present a condition of helplessness and suffering in the extreme cold of January. A woman is seen crying in the crackdown during her menstruation. The scene becomes more ironic as the media persons, accompanying the Governor, provide full coverage to his address, and his pretentious distribution of gifts to the people. However, the pain and agony of the besieged populace goes unnoticed entirely. This stage-managed act of ‘goodwill’ is carried out to apparently portray a ‘calm’ picture of Kashmir to the rest of the world, and it is here, that the role of media comes handy for the repressive machinery of the state to achieve such a purpose. In view of the language of propaganda and misinformation in media about the armed conflict in Kashmir, a scholar has appropriately observed, “What is being said about Kashmir in Indian and Pakistani media is not information but a campaign of misinformation and disinformation”.

Basharat ShameemAdhoc Lecturer  , Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    In these days of false and fabricated media propaganda, such works are useful to add information and analysis

  2. Thank you Basharat, I have just acquired, on your recommendation, Waheed’s The Collaborator and also The Book of Gold Leaves on my kindle. I look forward to learning more about Kashmir.

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