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Pakistan's tragedy doesn't move India.
[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Faisal Mahmood of Reuters; the man is consoling his family members after they returned to find their homes destroyed after heavy floods in Nowshera, located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, August 3, 2010. ]
On the evening of August 16th, 2010, I was in Delhi’s Ambassador Hotel. The Indian capital’s leading opinion makers, including the Prime Minister’s wife, gathered to celebrate the launch of author Khushwnat Singh’s yet another book. If somebody mentioned Pakistan’s harrowing humanitarian flood crisis over cocktails, I did not hear it.
The same night I got this distress e-mail from Navaid Husain, an architect friend in Karachi. “The floods have knocked Pakistan to the absolute bottom. 20 million displaced people. So many houses, schools, roads, bridges, factories knocked out. Loss of so many cattle, goats will push up the price of milk & meat. On the pictures taken by satellite shows so much water all over. Much of this water will stay stagnant & will take months to settle down. Lack of clean drinking water is already causing sickness.”
I immediately called Saeeda Diep, my activist friend in Lahore. She had just returned from Amritsar, the biggest city of the Indian side of Punjab, where she had gone to light candles in the border post of Wagah. Diep was shocked that the biggest tragedy of her country was not causing even a whimper with the neighbour. “Except Lahore and Karachi, my entire country is gone. Pakistan is being wiped out. It’s worse than the Indian Ocean tsunami and Haiti quake but for two days I read the Indian newspapers and found nothing, absolutely nothing, on Pakistan’s flood crisis. The Indian news channels were busy bashing Pakistan on terrorism.”
Is it true that Indian media is silent on Pakistan’s worst natural disaster?
"Understandably, there is a considerable coverage of the flash floods in Leh but so little space has been given to a far far greater natural disaster across the western border,” says Andrew Buncombe, the Independent’s Delhi-based Asia correspondent who had just returned from flooded central Punjab. “There may be several reasons for this. One of which is that Indian and Pakistani journalists have difficulties of obtaining visas to visit and work in each other’s countries. However, it does seem as if there is a blind spot within the Indian media towards the current, obvious suffering of the Pakistanis. Instead, the stories that have come out have largely focused on issues such as the weakening of Pakistan’s civilian government, the increased power of the military and procedural difficulties in processing India's donation of $5 million – which, while something, is not a massive amount given the scale of the floods.”
Indian journalists may not agree. “In Hindustan Times, we are carrying 7-8 column space daily on the floods,” says Samar Halarnkar, the Delhi-based newspaper’s editor-at-large. “You can’t do more because your readership doesn’t care about calamities such as floods, unless it’s happening in their own backyard. This is a modern media issue. It’s not about Pakistan. How many people know that Bihar is reeling under a severe drought currently?”
I then e-mailed Indian Express columnist Taveel Singh known for her harsh views on Pakistan. “The truth is that there is very little sympathy for Pakistan in India after 26/11,” she wrote referring to terrior attacks in Bombay by Pakistan-based terrorists in 2008. “With the floods in Leh causing considerable loss of life people are more concerned about that. Also you may not be aware that after the Kashmir earthquake Indian construction companies working on rebuilding houses on our side offered their help to the Pakistani government and it was rejected. As far as I know the Indian government's offers of aid this time have also been turned down.”
I checked out the latest issue of India Today, the country’s leading news weekly. There was no story on the floods in its thick 152 pages. The last page, though, had a small anecdote on Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani being an admirer of Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar. The other reference, on page 22, had a weekly column by the magazine’s Editor-at-Large, S. Prasannarajan, in which he blamed the ongoing Kashmir unrest being “played out under the gaze of Pakistan, which has unarguably become the unofficial headquarters of jihad.”
“The fact is that the tragedy has stuck an enemy. The corporate media is there to serve the market or so they say. The market demands jingoism and that they focus on our ‘own problems’, you know ‘Peepli Live’ and Aamir Khan kind of Bollywood subjects,” says Gaurav sood, a Stanford University scholar.
I logged onto the website of Tehelka magazine, known for its activist-ridden stories that dares the establishment by presenting the alternative truth. I searched for the word ‘flood’ and found nothing.
“In Amritsar, I watched the live telecast of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 40-minute-long speech in Delhi’s Red Fort,” says Diep. “If only he had mentioned about our tragedy… just one line on how sad he is… it would have made us Pakistanis think that yes, Indians care.”