22/01/2015 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Plight Of Fishermen Caught Between Terror And Boat

AFP via Getty Images
An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier stands beside fishing boats confisticated from Pakistani fishermen at Koteshwar in the desert region of Kutch close to the border with Pakistan in the western Indian state of Gujarat state some 530kms. from Ahmedabad on October 15, 2012. BSF personnel are at the forefront of security for the nation and have a presence at all of the country's borders. AFP PHOTO/Sam PANTHAKY (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

In this world of 'breaking news' and constant 'update', we sometimes need some distance in time to digest the full implications of an 'event' and its implications. A good example is the recent 'terror-boat' incident off the Porbandar coast of Gujarat, where a boat caught fire (still unclear how) and sank without any known survivors. The incident revealed the state of our media and will go on to affect fishermen who earn their livelihood from those waters.

The media's duty is first to truth and not to any other agency like the government, or army, or judiciary. That is why is is considered a separate pillar of democracy. That is why government claims in cases of natural disaster casualties, riots and many other such things are not taken at face value. It is understood that the government has an agenda and that, like any other entity in the world, is self-interest. The media is answerable partly to its owners but more importantly, to the people at large.

The interest of the government and that of the people often do not coincide. This basic understanding of the lay of the land is lacking when 'information' from various 'sources' of the government, or press-releases of the armed forces, or the coast guard, or any other state-agency is taken at face value. All states and entities of power want to manufacture consent of the kind that helps themselves the most. And the only way to resist that is to consistently doubt the versions of the powerful and follow that up with intelligent investigations and analysis. When such doubting is semi-criminalised in public discourse, those are signs of dangerous times. One has reason to be very worried about the prevalent scenario in the Indian Union when senior journalist Praveen Swami is threatened and his effigies were burnt by militant crowds for his reporting of certain loopholes and inconsistencies in the government's version of things in the Gujarat 'terror-boat' incident. During the 1970s, the Indira Congress government imposed media censorship to control the 'message'. It turns out that now, by media ownership and public threats, the same kind of pressure can be exerted on those who might want to doubt the official version of things and probe deeper. We do not even need an official declaration of emergency to produce a similar silence. The emerging media culture of blindly believing the government, or the army, or the police, or, for that matter, anyone on certain 'sensitive' matters without probing the substance of the claim gravely undermines democracy, civil liberties and people's sovereignty.

Now that the media and the government have moved on to other hot pursuits, lets turn to what has happened with other boats in the vicinity of the India-Pakistan coast. About three days after the 'terror-boat' incident, Pakistan Marine Security Agency captured two fishing boats manned by Indian citizens. When gung-ho posturing happens from security headquarters of India and Pakistan, the pit-poor daily wage earners like fishermen ultimately pay for it. The chattering-class and the elite, which are never at the receiving end of anything, help to create the atmosphere of animosity for which poor people have to pay, often with their lives. We do not know when these poor fishermen will be released. Like perverted stamp-collectors, India and Pakistan collect 'alien' fishermen in their jails and exchange them with each other during their periodic confidence building measures for peace. In this costly charade, fishermen are the cannon-fodders of goodwill. This cruelty must end.

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