Reporting of mass graves in J&K in the Indian press

BY BASEERA RAFIQI| IN Research Studies | 11/02/2017
Research abstracts on the Hoot: A section of the media has consistently glossed over the fact of mass graves out of bias or a desire to protect the armed forces,
Finds BASEERA RAFIQI in her study


Research Abstract, 2013


Discovery of Mass Graves in Kashmir: a Lop-sided Portrayal by National Media 

Jammu and Kashmir has become a flash-point of nuclear confrontation in the Indian sub-continent due to the cross claims of two arch rivals, India and Pakistan over its territorial and political settlement. It is assumed that the unfulfilled promise of the international community to resolve the dispute between the two nuclear powers has added to its volatility and exigency.

While Pakistan banks upon the UN Resolutions passed through the fifties and sixties, promising the right to self determination to the people of the state through a free and fair referendum under UN supervision, India holds on to the accession made by its  ruler - Maharaja Hari Singh – to the dominion of India.

Both countries have invested a lot in terms of military and logistic infra-structure to hold their respective claims, with a heavy toll on the lives of the people for more than six decades.  But with the onset of an armed struggle, mainly due to geo-political confluence in the region (which India believes to be backed by Pakistan), the response of the Indian state has become not only tough but often repressive. When the state forces resort to ‘catch and kill’, genocide, gang rape and enforced disappearances etc., it creates a sense of impunity for them, especially when special laws are enacted to cover up such crimes.

The presence of mass graves which were discovered later was the direct result of this state of impunity. According to the reports of Human Rights Watch 2008, SHRC Report 2011 and studies made by IPTK, APDP, JKCCS and Athrout, the Indian army and para-military forces have been responsible for innumerable and serious violations of human rights in Kashmir, including extra-judicial executions.

This study aims to look at the response of the national media during this period of so-called immunity. Unfortunately, it reveals that the national media has failed to live up to the minimum standard of impartiality, accuracy and neutrality, as far the reporting of mass graves is concerned. The international media, in contrast, has highlighted mass graves objectively, raising a question mark over the Indian media’s role as the pillar of modern democracy.



1. To analyze how the Indian print media handled the issue of mass graves in Kashmir;

2. To identify the  editorial angle  of the sampled media;

3.  To document the frequency of coverage of the issue.



Content analysis being a reliable tool of empirical study was adopted by the researcher in the present study. The method makes it possible to assess the data both on quantitative and qualitative parameters and thus provides an appropriate key to get the results. According to Berelson Bernard, content analysis is "a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of manifest content of communications"[i]

All aspects of the data have been accessed. The analysis is based on the sample chosen from a set of newspapers and magazines from the national media.



When conducting research, it is almost always impossible to study the entire population that the researcher is interested in. For example, if the researchers are studying political views among college students in the United States, it would be nearly impossible to survey every single college student across the country. To carry out research on the entire population would be extremely timely and costly. The data gathering was done on the basis of Purposive Sampling.

The selection of newspapers and magazines has been done on the basis of their alignment towards a particular ideology. For this purpose, newspapers which toe the government line and those which write against the establishment have been chosen in the data, as with the magazine selection too.




Only news stories from August 2011 to August 2012 were analyzed in order to get a view of the coverage given to the issue of mass graves by the national media. For the same purpose, the list of the newspapers and magazines selected fall in one of the two blocks. For the present study, given this sampling, it was easier to access the data according to their organizational ideologies. To see how many articles, opinion pieces and banner headlines related to the theme were printed or used during that period helped in the understanding of the quantity of the coverage given to the matter by various news outlets.

The Indian Express

Times of India 





After the quantitative analysis, the qualitative section looks at the story beginning with its  headline, words used and the slant to understand the pattern of coverage by the selected newspapers and magazines.



Jammu and Kashmir ‘nightmare’ in UK media - 25 July, 2012

Valley group admits militants responsible for disappearances - 12 July, 2011


Times of India: Most of the newspaper’s headlines give the idea that the killings in the state during the turmoil have taken place while the armed forces have been maintaining law and order and that the number of dead is higher among the armed forces than civilians. All the headlines tend to be biased on the issue of mass graves. The opinion piece has quite a neutral headline and has tried to put forward the other version of the story.

SHRC orders probe into more unmarked graves in J&K - 17 September 2011

Missing in the Valley - 28 August 2011

Indian Express: Headlines for the news stories related to the mass graves that appeared in the newspaper are all serious in tone. With all the leads giving an insight into the subject and the gravity of the matter, it shows their seriousness.

Where 5,000 Graves Don’t Speak -18 June 2012

Closure matters - 4 September 2012 

Tehelka and Outlook have put straightforward headlines to their stories on the topic.



Times of India: Most of the stories have used certain words like seemingly, allegedly, and claimed to create a certain amount of doubt in the reader about the authenticity of the reports. Throughout the stories, words that minimize the gravity of the issue have been deliberately incorporated. For example, why was it necessary to write that Parvez Imroz was allegedly denied a passport when the fact is that he was not allowed to travel outside the country because he acts as a constant threat to the Indian state.

Indian Express: The Indian Express has been too neutral while covering the matter and has used words accordingly. It is true that both the Times of India and the India Express have reported quite differently on the same matter and that’s why there is a clear difference between the words and ideas used.

Tehelka and Outlook: Tehelka and Outlook have used words that favour the issue; all the stories provide a humane touch through the apt use of words.



The slant of the stories was ascertained on the basis of their pro or anti stand. It was also looked at through the prism of words and the inclinations demonstrated. Most of the stories that were published in the Times of India have a negative slant, which means that they have tried to down play the matter. It is also an indicator of the inclination of the organization.  The Indian Express, Tehelka and Outlook have a positive slant to most of their stories.

This implies that, except the Times of India, the rest of the selected newspapers and magazines have gone into the truth or the deeper details of the matter and not superficial reporting based on pre-conceived notions.

Such a grave issue ought to be looked at through a more serious approach than just reporting the events. It is important to mention here that out of the four opinion pieces, three were written by Kashmiris and only one was written a non-Kashmiri. It gives an idea of how little the issue has been taken up by non-Kashmiris.



The number of opinion pieces says a lot about the editorial policy of the newspaper or magazine. It is very clear from the table that there has been a dearth of opinion articles in both newspapers and magazines, giving a clear idea of the orientation of the media towards the issue. Just one opinion piece in a whole year by all the newspapers and magazines indicates  how lightly they have taken the issue.



  • The findings of the present study are: 
  • The fact that mass graves exist throughout the territory of Jammu & Kashmir excluding Ladakh has been established though the exact number is yet to be calculated.
  • The coverage in the print media has not been adequate, sufficient, or proportionate to the seriousness of the matter in terms of international humanitarian law and human rights discourse.
  • The role of the armed forces has been dubious, often culminating in gross violations of international norms in conflict zones vis-a- vis non-combatants. In the name of fighting insurgency, the armed forces have often resorted to excessive use of force.
  • The news of mass graves has almost been blocked by the national media as per the specimen study undertaken with respect to two widely circulated national dailies and widely popular national magazines.
  • There seems to be a deliberate attempt to shield the covert actions committed by the armed forces by the national media, perhaps out of a belief that it would otherwise demoralize the armed forces. But this tendency tends to ignore the gross violations of human rights of their own people even though they claim the state is an integral part of the country.
  • The blackout by the Indian media allows the separatists to question such actions on the part of the state and paint them as an effort to suppress their legitimate right of expression against the atrocities committed against the common people. Thus the tactics of the Indian media are often counter-productive.



Indian Express
Times of India
Foreign Policy

a) Ashley Crossman
b) Berelson Bernard 1952( content analysis)
c) The Valley of Kashmir , Walter R. Lawrence
d) Curfewed Nights Basharat Peer

VIII. http://www. kashmir_dateline/ kashmir-reference.html/
IX.  http://www. kashmir_dateline/ kashmir-reference.html/

[i] Berelson, 74, Content Analysis.


The author is a research scholar in Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Kashmir.  Email:


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