Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A most unwelcome brand of journalism

The Economist, in an article on Indian politics, titled "A most unwelcome tricolour" (http://www.economist.com/blogs/asiaview/2011/01/indian_nationalism_kashmir?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/mc/unwelcometricolour), offers an interesting insight into shabby journalism.

> ....the number of soldiers deployed in Kashmir (it is unclear how many are there in the first place, but activists tend to put the number at a gobsmacking 500,000).

This is most irresponsible. Who is an activist? Anyone who writes letters to newspapes, displaying an interest in the fate of her fellow-man? Then some letters to the editor refer to "millions of Indian soldiers" in Kashmir. I assume that there are no official "I am an activist" T-shirts handed out by the UN, so this definition is as valid as any.

In any case, is it not a journalist's job to attempt to ascertain facts? Our author does not even bother to try. No references as to who these "activists" are, and no reason as to why these particular ones are chosen. Because they were ex-Boy Scouts and crossed their fingers?

But, let us say, that the Indian Army does not feel comfortable giving details of numbers and locations of its personnel away to the public, in an area rife with militants, and with parts occupied by three countries with nuclear weapons. This would not be unusual behaviour on the Indian Army's part, one imagines.

However, the journalist can display some thinking here. How many soldiers are there in the Indian army? How many of them belong to fighting arms (infantry, artillery etc.) as opposed to the Service Corps, Medical Corps etc.? How many engagements does the army currently have - within India, and abroad (with the UN)? And India has fought wars with two of its neighbours in recent decades, and with lots of others in the centuries gone by - this tends to make for a fair case for having a large army (even if it is one which does not have a correspondingly high attack potential). Especially in a country with high unemployment. Which formations are officially located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir? Some more thinking along these lines should help with a much better figure.

Gobsmacking, the journalist calls the figure of 500,000. Even more gobsmacking is the figure of 1 billion + Indians. Ridiculously overpopulated little country, isn't it? (Ca. 9 times more than the US, adjusting for the superior size of the latter)

But a figure alone is hardly relevant. Given that China, with the world's largest army, has occupied (according to the Indians) a part of J & K. Ditto Pakistan (ditto), and this is a country with regular military dictatorships , lots of connections with Islamic terrorists, and one of the world's largest armies.

> A few nights before Republic Day, a trainload of 2,000 of the party’s activists, which had been chugging north from Karnataka state towards Kashmir, was quietly turned around by officials as it passed through Maharashtra state, and sent south again.

This does conjure up a vision of a long journey interrupted mid-way, or even, just before their final destination. Perhaps it would not have been so exciting if the author had noted that Maharashtra state _borders_ Karnataka state, and that Srinagar is around a thousand miles away.

> In 2010, stone-throwing youths launched mass protests in Srinagar, and separatist leaders called strikes, earning a violent response from ill-trained police. Over 110 Kashmiris were killed.

This is, of course, deplorable. But are the police in the rest of India better trained? We are discussing a third-world country here and to say, for example, that after 60 years of Indian democracy, poverty abounds in Kashmir (and hence imply that this form of government is not a particularly sound one), is not entirely fair - for destitution is to be found across India.

I wonder what, in the opinion of the author, will be the reaction of the police in Bihar state, if college students started throwing stones at them.

If they were really small stones, I guess it would be all right. But big ones, sharp ones, ones that can destroy the vision of a human or, indeed, kill him, must be treated as violent (the throwing of). Yet, only on one side of the equation is the world "violent" used.

> The answer—as even the most nationalist provocateur knows—is that Kashmiris, the majority of whom are Muslim, have long disputed India’s right to rule over the territory.

Interesting juxtaposition of "majority Muslims" and "long disputed". How long is long? 60 years? 2000 years? How ancient are the kingdoms of India? Did Islam originate in Kashmir, or was there a far older way of life there, and in India? How came it to be? Long-distance mail catalogues or ruthless warriors with pointy swords? Astonishingly, these old-fashioned arguments still hold valid - in the Holy Land, for instance, etc. etc.. But we modern ones are more concerned about whether everyone has personal liberties, irrespective of the nature and size of the state.

> But the BJP’s move looks cynical and may make it harder to avoid another round of protests and killings in 2011.

Another journalist who does not appear to understand the meaning of the word "cynical". It is not the BJP being cynical, but the author, in implying that the stated aims of the BJP are but a subterfuge, and the real purpose is something else. Political parties in democracies tend to indulge in vote-grubbing activities. This is the only way to get elected.

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