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Media, State and Political Violence: The Press Construction of Terrorism in the Indian Punjab

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posted on 28.09.2012, 09:14 by Vipul Mudgal
For centuries India has been seen and portrayed as an enigma to the world. Its archetypal mysticism, its extreme diversity, and Gandhian 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) comply with the stereotype. Beneath the veneer of this fascinating image, there is another India, struggling to stay united and democratic. With scores of nationalities, sub-nationalities and ethnic, tribal and vernacular groups spread all over the subcontinent, social conflicts and political violence are major and recurring problems. The Indian state's reaction to violence and insurgency keeps changing with political situations. The official action is sometimes responsive to peoples' anxieties but mostly it is synonymous with the use of force and questionable methods. The country may seem to be breaking apart with the sheer magnitude of violence and social conflicts but in the process it seems to be learning to cope with political dissent and is arguably finding more civilised ways to deal with insurgency. India is also among very few developing countries with strong traditions of democracy and an independent press. Even the electronic media which worked under the control of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry since independence, is now being decontrolled and privatised. In Kashmir, in the extreme north of the country and in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, in the north-east, armed insurgency began several decades ago. In the relatively prosperous northern state of Punjab, where the Nehruvian dream of the Green Revolution became a success in the sixties, the first signs of political violence surfaced in the late seventies. In the next few years, the violent campaign of the Sikh rebels made news all over the world and stayed on in headlines for more than a decade, either for massacres and hijackings by insurgents or for violations of human rights by the security forces. India's Delhi-based national press and Punjab's own regional press in Punjabi, Hindi and English languages reported little else once' terrorism' became a daily occurrence. Most news items about India to appear in the international press in the mid eighties were on or about 'terrorism' in Punjab. The genesis of terrorism in Punjab calls for separate research? Opinion is divided over whether the last decade's violence, in which more than 20,000 people were killed, could be referred to as 'terrorism.' As a part of their struggle for freedom, armed supporters of the Khalistan movement used an extensively violent strategy, coupled with a nebulous religio-political ideology, which created an atmosphere of insecurity and terror all over North India. No walk of life seemed to be untouched by violence and insurgency. The victims included people of both Hindu and Sikh communities, state officials, security personnel, editors and journalists and even hawkers and distributors of certain newspapers. Most notable victims of this violence included the former Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, a former Chief of the Indian Army, General A S Vaidya, famous Sikh politician and former Akali Dal President, Harchand Singh Longowal and two successive editors of Punjab's biggest Hindi language paper, Punjab Kesari. The violent campaign for Khalistan was met with stern official violence by the security forces amid charges of human rights violations. Now the situation is said to be relatively calm and peaceful, even though India's Punjab problem is far from over. [Taken from the Introduction]


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University of Leicester

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