"Your son massacred thousands of Pakistanis", the blunt question flew on to the face of the mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav.
Spy or no spy, no mother wants to hear that her son has been a mass murderer.
If espionage is punishable by law then the punishment should be meted out to the person concerned and not spill over to include family members.
For the record, Kulbhushan Jadhav's 'guilt' or complicity in espionage activities have not been proven yet.
The mistreatment of family members is what India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pointed out today in the Parliament. She refered to the absurdity of Pakistan's actions.
But while we understand, though find it unacceptable, the reasons behind the bullying tactics of the Pakistani government. What surprises us more is why would the Press act the way it did.
Then why did the Pakistan Press turned so brutal to the mother and the wife?
In the turbulent, murky water of bilateral relation between India and Pakistan, even the Press, which should ideally disassociate itself from the hyper-nationalistic moods of the day turns into a tool of terror.
It is unfortunate, but not an aberration, to see the Press acting in this way. While nationalism can justifiably turn one into a patriotic citizen, too much of nationalism can turn a patriot into a jingoistic individual. In an insecure democracy, such as Pakistan, the urge to prove patriotism can often go overboard.
In front of the glare of the international media, the temptation to conduct a media trial of two closest kins of the accused, even if they are innocent, is too big to be ignored.
The Press, as per the classic definition, is the fourth estate. In a democracy, it is responsible for informing and educating the people. But more often than not, it abdicates that role and prefers to pander to the official position.
Let us be under no illusion that the Press of the world's largest democracy is any more independent or conscious than its counterpart in Pakistan. But such comparisons between two bad examples defeat the larger goal of having a fiercely independent and committed press.
The state establishments of Pakistan have done its share in humiliating, harassing and hurting the two ladies. Whose only crime, as I could make out from far, is being related to the alleged 'culprit' by blood and through marriage. I suppose they have suffered enough for that. Punishments are not always meted out by courts, the sufferings that we undergo on a daily basis from a range of diffused sources can be traumatic too.
As journalists, we are laden with the difficult task of maintaining a relationship with government and state machineries but at the same time, we are not expected to allow these relationships to soften our stance when we speak back to power.
This ability and the responsibility to speak back to power, no matter how big and threatening its presence is, is a rare privilege. To lose it would mean an easy and cushy life but a redundant profession.
In the Communist countries, the state has its own newspaper. The existence of media beyond the control of the state is rarely encouraged. This idea of a state-controlled media stemmed from the ideological position that the Communist Party, as the vanguard of the proletariat, will be in a position to portray the most genuine concerns of the people. Over time, however, the fallacy of such a position became too glaring to ignore. The apathy towards bourgeois-run media turned into a ploy to gag free press.
In a robust democracy, such as India or in a fragile representative government, such as Pakistan, the ambiguity of state control over the Press makes it even more hideous. The danger of an obsequious media always is present but well masquerade under the nationalist garb.
Kulbhushan Jadhav's case provided just enough instigation for the Pakistani Press to unveil its true character. The violence, the impatience, and the vitriolic that it directed towards Jadhav's mother and wife is what it is expected to carry in its bosom towards anyone identified by the state as its enemy.
They just need to be tad careful though. The moment state's agenda becomes the media's agenda, the dangers are that journalists become apologists of the state.
There is a big difference between state and the nation; people and the politician. It is for us to choose our focus of primary allegiance.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).