Indian community takes on SBS over ‘distorted’ Kashmir map

Government-funded network rebuked by Indian authorities; online petition gets over 5,300 supporters

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A map of India showing the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as disputed territory by broadcast media SBS has angered a large section of the Indian community in Australia.

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Map used by SBS

The broadcast also prompted India’s High Commissioner in Australia, Ajay M Gondane, to issue an ‘oral demarche’ to the Australian government. “We cannot tolerate this,” Gondane told Indian Link. “We cannot let it go just like that.”

The Consulate General of India in Sydney also took up the matter with SBS. “We have conveyed our strong objection to this wrong depiction,” said B Vanlalvawna, Consul General of India in Sydney. “We have also shared the political map of Republic of India as published by the Survey of India with SBS for their future reference.”

An online petition to the effect that was launched on change.org had received over 5,300 supporters at the time of going to print. The petition is addressed to the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield.

“Jammu and Kashmir, like any other state, is an integral part of India and such attempts by SBS would be seen as a direct attack on the sovereignty of India. No Indian, whether in India or overseas would tolerate such propaganda,” the petition says.

“More importantly, this type of offensive content creates a divide in the multicultural society of Australia. Responsible media organisations should never propagate such lies,” it adds, and goes on to list several other examples of what they described as SBS’s ‘hate campaign against India.’  The petition says that SBS has previously had to withdraw, and apologise for, some such reports.

SBS Hindi’s piece on Indians googling PV Sindhu’s caste while she was participating in the 2016 Olympics was one such instance. After a complaint by Jay Shah,  General Secretary of the Overseas Friends of BJP Australia (OFBJP Australia), Victorian chapter, SBS launched an investigation and concluded that “various forms of data were misunderstood, resulting (in) a significant overstatement of the number of people searching for PV Singh’s caste online.” It apologised for the story.

Shah also complained against another SBS story claiming that NRIs were flocking to Punjab to campaign for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Shah said that “not a single opposing view was published” in the story. The SBS Ombudsman conceded that “it (was) incumbent on the program to ensure that balancing material was included in the report” and that “the views of all three parties” – AAP, BJP and Congress – “should have been included.”

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Political Map of India, approved by Survey of India

The current online petition says that the most recent broadcast error has had ‘adverse effects on the bilateral relationship between Australia and India. India is the largest democracy in the world and the largest sources of skilled and most positive contributing migrants in Australia.’

Some citizens also approached their respective public representatives over the issue, prompting Michelle Rowland, Member for Greenway, to write a letter to Michael Ebeid, CEO and MD and SBS. “I am informed by a number of my constituents,” Rowland wrote to Ebeid, “that this map  has caused great offence to many Indian-Australians in our community… I would be very grateful for your serious consideration of these concerns.”

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Greenway Member Michelle Rowland’s letter to SBS chief Michael Ebeid

Community debate

Some 30 members of the community met on 19 August to condemn the depiction and chalk out a strategy on the future course of action.

The controversial depiction in question was broadcast as part of a programme aired on 15 August, India’s Independence Day. In it, India is shown in orange, Pakistan in red while the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is shaded with orange and red stripes, showing that it was a disputed territory.

The Indians gathered at the meeting said that this was unacceptable since Kashmir was an ‘inalienable part of India.’ They said that SBS had hurt the sentiments of Indians and alleged that this was part of SBS’s ‘anti-India’ agenda.

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A meeting of community members to discuss the issue took place on 19 August

Balesh Dhankhar, a vociferous participant in the meeting, also listed out previous articles by the same network which were ‘biased, misleading and agenda-driven.’

Dr Yadu Singh, a prominent community leader and president of Federation of Indian Associations of NSW (FIAN), said that this was indeed disturbing as SBS was funded by the Australian government. He said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had a much better version of the map that clearly depicted the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) but ‘SBS had gone several notches down’ by depicting the entire Jammu and Kashmir state as disputed territory.

The 19 August meeting called for a multi-pronged strategy in reaction to the broadcast. This included passing of a resolution to condemn the broadcast, float a body called India Forum to take up the issue with SBS, and prevail upon the Minister for Communications to ‘stop SBS’s hate and propaganda against India.’

The broadcast also sparked anger in other parts of Australia. Jay Shah said, “When the map issue came up on the eve of Indian Independence Day, there was an outrage from the community. We are getting tremendous community support from across Australia and we have done nothing more than articulating anger within the diaspora.”

Always a grey area

Several international websites and government organisations, including the US Department of Home, show a dotted line around the north-west part of Jammu and Kashmir (sharing boundary with Pakistan) and north-east part of the state (sharing boundary with China) to depict that these are disputed territories. International news agencies such as Reuters and the BBC also often refer to Kashmir as ‘Indian-controlled Kashmir’ or ‘Indian-administered Kashmir.’

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India’s map that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade uses

Asked if the Indian authorities had provided an approved map to media organisations, the High Commissioner said that the Survey of India had issued a map of what the Indian position is.

Indian Link reached out to SBS to seek the network’s side of the story. A spokesperson said to Indian Link, “SBS World News appreciates that both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir and administer separate parts of the region.

As a news service, it is not our role to take a particular side. For this reason, the still image shows Kashmir with the colours of both nations as represented on the map.

The map is designed to be seen as an element within a video not as a still image. The video shows the changes in boundaries over the past 70 years. It also makes it clear that the Kashmir region is a disputed territory.”

This is not the first time that there has been a controversy about depiction of the Indian map. Some time back, Twitter had shown the geographical location of Kashmir in China and Jammu in Pakistan, triggering protests from the Indian government after which it was corrected.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also had to delete a post in which India’s map was inaccurate. There were strong reactions by Indians on an infographic containing India’s map without Jammu and Kashmir.

The repeated errors just go to show that the Kashmir map is indeed a grey area and very few people are aware of the actual boundaries and disputed areas.

While it is important to have a vocal group of concerned Indian Australians to raise these issues, it is also important to ensure that the media has the right to reply and to correct any inaccuracies. Fake news accusations and the virtual finger-wagging that seems to be growing in India and other countries such as the United States by vigilante groups need to be kept in balance. Dissenting voices, or even comments on bad governance, are swiftly labelled as “anti-national”.

Meanwhile, the eastern border of India was also in the news recently. A Sydney University IT lecturer had to face online fury and tender an apology after using during teaching a map showing Chinese-claimed territory as part of India.

A social media account of a Sydney University international students group recently posted an article which complained the lecturer, Khimji Vaghjiani, had used the wrong map.

“India should respect the facts,” the author of the article demanded.

Vaghjiani has since apologised. “Over 18 months ago, I used an out-of-date map, downloaded from the internet, when discussing characteristics of IT entrepreneurs around the world, however I was unaware that the map was inaccurate and out-of-date. This was a genuine mistake and I regret any offence this may have caused,” he said in a statement.

The SBS episode was the second unpleasant incident around 15 August. On the morning of the Independence Day, a fleet of about 10 supercars, organised by a Sydney-based Australian Chinese automobile club, drove around the city, staged a rally of sorts.

The rally was clearly in response to the Doklam border standoff and the cars bore hardline messages such as “China: Not even a bit can be left behind” and “Anyone who offends China will be killed no matter how far the target is.” The cars drove around the city, revving up around the Indian Consulate at Castlereagh Street in a bid to draw attention.

The Indian High Commissioner echoed a lot of Indians when he had a one-word description for the tamasha: “Silly!”