Manufacturing consent in Indian-administered Kashmir
Media warfare is at the heart of the state’s approach to Kashmir – and in the digital age, that means social media too.
The Empire is a colossal factory. The inner walls are lined with millions of tiny, specially angled and arranged mirrors – reflecting and multiplying only a single image. The acoustics are designed so that a single sound reverberates, masking every other sound. Is this assemblage of image and sound, one wonders, a mere projection, or is it the Empire itself – its very building blocks? This architecture, with its perpetually running conveyor belts, augments the factory’s production of homogeneity and thought control which guarantee soaring profits of “consent”.
The Empire doesn't merely outsource its war to its corporate- state-owned media but media sees this battle as its own
Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent helps us demystify the workings of the Empire. The book details a propaganda model allowing us to understand the systemic and structural factors governing media operations serving trans-geographical dominant interests.
The structure they describe is reminiscent of the striking sequence in the 1979 Pink Floyd music video for Another Brick in the Wall – Part 2 – where children emerge from a tunnel as clones, march in unison to the same beat on conveyor belts and fall blindly into a meat grinder from which they re-emerge minced, worm-like, unidentifiable.
The consumers of Empire’s products thus become products themselves. This haunting spectre is the spectre of democracy sustained by “manufactured consent”.
“So we need something to tame the bewildered herd, and that something is this new revolution in the art of democracy: the manufacture of consent,” writes Chomsky.
In Indian-administered Kashmir, Empire is a state-security-military-corporate-media-complex. The images and sounds produced in the factory are amplified and reverberated across newsrooms, parliament, bureaucracies, business houses, Bollywood, advertisements, academia, militia. The language, the formulae, the narrative templates are set up by this complex, ready for easy consumption.
Media warfare is at the heart of India’s control in the region. “A good image of the army is in the interest of the country,”said retired Major-General SL Narasimhan at a seminar in New Delhi in 2012. The Indian army sees media as a force multiplier, and the focus of its media policy is public relations and perception management.
In 1998, Operation Goodwill, a counter-insurgency operation was launched in Kashmir. It was aimed at “winning hearts and minds”(WHAM) – a tactic used by a British general during the Malayan emergency and by the US Army in Vietnam and Iraq. According to a blog maintained by the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Operation Goodwill includes efforts to “assuage the feeling of alienation and molding public opinion towards peace and development…to fan the desire for firmer integration with the nation…and to show the humane face of the soldier.”
In his paper Military-Media Interface: Changing Paradigms, New Challenges, Ajay K Rai, a research fellow at the Indian Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, writes of the media’s role in the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan: “During the Kargil conflict, it was said by some media experts about various TV interviews wherein jawans [soldiers] on the battlefront talked aloud about patriotism and the country’s, honour, that those were nothing more than stage-managed shows … The media support to the Indian military operations against Pakistan in the Kargil conflict went a long way in ensuring the approval of the international community of India’s stand on the LoC [the Line of Control between the two countries] and other related issues.”
In the digital age, media warfare has moved to social media too. During the 2016 unrest in Kashmir following the death of 21-year-old Burhan Wani, a “most-wanted”insurgent commander, the Indian state enforced a complete information blackout. Mobile phone networks and internet services were interrupted. Printing presses shut down and newspapers in the region temporarily banned from publishing.
Facebook was accused of censoring posts and pictures, and blocking the user accounts of those posting about the events unfolding in Kashmir.
“Whoever controls the narrative in this field, will occupy the perception high ground,”wrote Nitin Gokhale, a security analyst, who writes and appears across media outlets in India.
The Empire doesn’t merely outsource its war to its corporate state-owned media, but media sees this battle as its own. Sudhir Chaudhary, the editor of the Zee News channel, said in an interview to Al Jazeera: “We have an anti-terrorism stand, an anti-Pakistan stand. We believe Kashmir is a part and parcel of India.”
Justifying the gag on the Kashmiri press, he said: “Media in Srinagar is not fair, is not neutral. It is not portraying both the sides … it was a right decision to put a brake on such media.”
Chomsky and Herman admit that their model does not posit that all propaganda emanating from the media is effective. However, they note that dissent is kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official.
Despite the Empire’s multi-pronged crackdown, the sustained resistance and its reflection in the alternative work emerging from and about Kashmir is threatening the foundations of Empire; cracks in its walls are already visible.
In August 2016, at the Hamburg University of Technology, my film Till Then the Roads Carry Her… and Iffat Fatima’s Blood Leaves its Trail were shown after repeated attempts to prevent the screenings by some Indian students. They had dispatched an email warning that Pakistani and Indian students would attend the event, leading to heated arguments that would be “unacceptable inside an educational institution”. “There is a huge amount of unrest going on in that particular state of India … There are both positive and negatives rising out from any democracy.”This email harping on about the grand narratives surrounding Kashmir demonstrates a major narrative thread of state-manufactured consent: India is a democracy and Kashmir is an integral part of it.
Afterwards, an Indian student confessed that she had come to support India with her friends but changed her perspective. “We must look beyond nationalism,”she remarked amid a strange silence in the hall.
However, what followed was her wrestling between the statist narratives and what she witnessed through the films. “I can’t imagine my father getting disappeared,”she said, followed by “but the army is there to curb terrorists”; “What should we do as common people?” In the same breath, “But did you speak to Narendra Modi, our promising prime minister?”
In times when everything is being bought over by the state the choice still remains ours: either become building blocks for the Empire’s citadel – another brick in its wall – or dislodge the bricks. Despite the marginalisation of dissent, the possibilities of resistance exist.
Uzma Falak is a native of Kashmir. Her narratives and essays have been published in the Caravan, Jadaliyya, Of Occupation and Resistance, Paper Txt Messages from Kashmir and others publications. Integrating creative practice and research, she is currently pursuing her practice-based PhD in New Delhi, India.
This article forms part of an online project by Al Jazeera English’s media analysis show The Listening Post. Follow #MediaTheorised
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policies.