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August 4, 2000

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Ramesh N Rao

Views about a massacre

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I went for a walk with an Indologist friend of mine yesterday and brought up the topic of the Kashmir massacres. I told him that I thought the BJP-led government had walked into a trap, and that the people who were paying for the strategic blunder were the poor, mostly Hindus. He immediately told me that he had read the latest report in the New York Times, and that eye-witnesses had confirmed that many who had shot at them were policemen and Indian armed forces personnel.

"And Muslims were killed too," he told me in a challenging voice, as if to say that it could indeed be men of the Indian Army who had gone on a rampage. "I don't believe either side," he concluded. I was outraged and frustrated. If this Indologist was so easily swayed by an Associated Press report in the New York Times, just imagine what the ordinary American reader would conclude about the massacre of nearly 100 people in the Kashmir Valley. My arguments initially fell on deaf ears, and I thought it would be best to walk away from my friend before I said something really rude to him.

With my temper under control, later I told him what the Indian newspapers were reporting. Yes, there was some crossfire at the Pahalgam camp where the pilgrims were lodged. If the police and the army guarding the camp heard and saw gunfire from the terrorists they had to respond. In the crossfire some people may have died.

"But what about this bus driver who said he saw men dressed in Indian Army fatigues killing people," my friend asked. I asked him to think about it for a while. Would the army, if it had conspired to kill Hindus and blame it on Muslim terrorists, go ahead and send a bunch of its men dressed in army uniform? Why would the army do such a thing anyway? Do you think the Indian Army is a rogue force undermining the BJP-led government, and that they would mow down about 80-plus Hindus and a handful of Muslims? For what purpose?

If indeed they wanted to scuttle the peace talks, would they not have killed just Hindus and blamed the Muslims? Do you know that the Muslims killed were poor porters, and that the Hindus killed were mostly poor pilgrims, and at another site poor labourers from Bihar? Do you think the BJP-led government ordered the army to undertake such operations? Don't you know that the defence minister is George Fernandes, a Christian, and a Samata Party leader? Do you believe that BJP members/ministers could have circumvented the chain of command and appealed to some rogue elements in the army?

Even suppose they were able to, do you think then that they would send this force dressed in Indian Army fatigues? Do you think the Indian armed forces and the government could, like in the US, use an organization like the Central Intelligence Agency to carry out such acts? Don't you know that there is nothing like the CIA in India?

Moreover, don't you know that the government in Kashmir is a National Conference government, and the National Conference is led by Farooq Abdullah, a Muslim, and that the NC is almost totally a Muslim political party? Don't you know that the Indian government asked the army to cease operations against the terrorists when the Hizb declared a ceasefire? Don't you know that the Indian government is under a lot of pressure from the US to continue talks with the leaders of these Muslim militant and terrorist organizations? And, by the way, what do you think is Pakistan's role in all this? Why do you think the Pakistani government has immediately issued through its foreign office incendiary statements accusing the Indian government of carrying out these murders?

I didn't pose all these questions to my friend for fear that he would merely repeat the details of the NYT report as if that were the truth, and the only truth. And I hated to hear from him again the cliche that there are two sides to any/every story. However, I realised how much damage the NYT report had already done, and I wondered once again how the racially and religiously tinged reports and commentaries in the newspaper went unquestioned by the locals as well as the Indian-American populace.

That many of the NYT reporters are biased and that their reports are slanted against India and Hindus was once again confirmed this morning when I read Barry Bearak's report. While seemingly balanced, and while carefully leaving open doubts, the report contained language that either deliberately, or heedlessly, the editors had let pass. Here is what Bearak says: "Indeed, Pakistan's foreign ministry issued a statement asserting that India's own ruthless conniving might be to blame.

"'On previous occasions,' the ministry said, 'terrorist acts aimed at civilians have been carried out by renegade elements at the behest of the Indian security forces, to malign the Kashmiri freedom struggle internationally'."

Ruthlessly conniving Indians, Bearak says. Now, is he paraphrasing the Pakistani government statement, or is he making his own opinions known? Why are the words "ruthlessly conniving" not in parentheses? Bearak quotes the Pakistani government clearly in the following sentence, but he, I believe deliberately, chooses not to do so when characterizing the Indian government in such baldly harsh terms.

Clearly, no editor worth his/her salt would allow such language to be incorporated in a report without checking the Pakistani statement, and if they had checked that statement they would have put those words within parentheses. The New York Times has not published one report favourable to the BJP-led government since it assumed power in March 1998. Maybe a journalism graduate student will soon do a content analysis of the commentaries and reports on India appearing in that august newspaper these past two years to support my thesis.

What about the reactions of Indian Americans to the report of the massacres? The large majority of Indians, as Saisuresh Sivaswamy says in his piece on, are apathetic. It could be true of Indian-Americans too.

However, those politically involved and concerned about the state of the Indian nation have reacted with anger and frustration. The anger, especially of those sympathetic to the BJP-led government, is directed against Vajpayee. The invective they have used on online forums against the prime minister is indicative of their disappointment with the government.

They can't believe that this supposedly "Hindu nationalist" party is so naive, confused, and amateurish in dealing with the Kashmir issue, and the man at the helm is turning out to be like the previous "Mahatma" who advised patience to Hindus and admonished them at every opportunity, but failed to either appeal to the Muslims or ignored their violence and intransigence.

These "activists" have called for the resignation of Vajpayee, and some have gone to the extent of appealing to Sonia Gandhi to save Hindus. The BJP is fast losing credibility for these people, and most probably the anger and frustration will lead to apathy and withdrawal, paving the way indirectly for the collapse of the multi-party government.

"Mahatma Vajpayee", as many have sarcastically labelled the prime minister, may end up garnering sympathy paragraphs in future history textbooks but, if he doesn't change his style of functioning, he could very well be considered by the party faithful as someone who not only missed a real opportunity for bringing about major changes in the way the country is governed but who may be in the process of doing another Prithviraj Chauhan.

With these thoughts swirling in my head I decided to take a break and go have my haircut. Dorothy, who usually cuts my hair, got talking about what was on television and what she had been reading. She told me that she was really hooked on Survivor, hated the idea of Big Brother, and off and on watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

"What about news", I enquired.

And she said, "Oh, it is almost always politics, and I don't care much for it." She was, however, interested in discussing the candidates running for the local sheriff's office. Unlike my Indologist friend, I thought, Dorothy could be a more open listener. I didn't bend her ear though this time. But I will catch her before she gets a copy of the New York Times.

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