The brazen covert part of the operation ‘silence-the-media’ has been the arrest of Kashmir Narrator’s Assistant Editor Aasif Sultan (on 27 August 2018). The State was unmoved by huge media outcry in Kashmir and outside and protests by the local media fraternity. Despite appeals, it went ahead and booked him under false, flimsy and unsubstantiated charges. The subtext of Aasif’s arrest is the coverage of several events and personalities by Kashmir Narrator, a fact borne by questions posed to Aasif by the police during his detention and subsequent physical and mental interrogation
For the first time in the history of Kashmir dispute, the United Nations rights body has indicted India twice in a span of few months: first by the former UNHCR chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein in the first-ever report on human rights situation in Kashmir, and the second time by Hussein’s successor Michele Bachelet who slammed India for lack of any “meaningful improvement’” on addressing issues highlighted in the report released by Hussein. India obviously reacted sharply both times, dismissing the report and criticism without any reference to stark facts pointed out in the report. As a sovereign nation that has achieved diplomatic heft during the past few decades, New Delhi could deploy rhetoric to perfunctorily dismiss the world body’s damning report of its dealings in Kashmir.
Kashmiris are probably the only race that must have knocked at the doors of the United Nations the most ever since its creation. Daily press releases of pro-freedom groups addressed to the UN and the “world community” are a testimony to this fact. Therefore, the UNHCR report was seen as the acknowledgement of the decades of Kashmiri sufferings.
It is important that the UN report should be read in the context of an important development that took place before its publication in June this year. In May, India’s Ministry of External Affairs asked foreign journalists working in India to apply for permission before visiting “restricted and protected areas”. Several reports suggested the measure was taken to make entry of foreign reporters into Kashmir difficult, as several in depth reports about Kashmir in the foreign media outlets since 2016 had meant diplomatic embarrassment for New Delhi at the international level and renewed focus on Kashmir. The UN report and several news stories and features have chronicled the grave situation in Kashmir and also highlighted the curbs on the media like detention of journalists and intimidation of media owners. The result of all these developments is a comprehensive overt and (mostly) covert crackdown, currently underway, on the media in Kashmir. Characteristic of this crackdown is the tragic fact that not much about it would make it to the media.
Several Kashmiri journalists of repute, some acknowledged internationally for their work, have been called by the police during the past five months. A young journalist was called from New Delhi and questioned for five consecutive days, though he was not detained. Passports of many journalists were withheld during the questioning and in some cases for several days, a veiled threat perhaps that the travel document could be withdrawn or impounded if “you don’t mend your ways”. Apprehending further reprisals, most have chosen to remain silent. A freelance journalist was arrested and interrogated by the National Investigation Agency at New Delhi. He had interviewed woman pro-freedom leader Asiya Andrabi for a local newspaper. The newspaper was sent a notice, although dozens of such interviews have appeared in all major outlets in the past. Like freemasons, the crackdown is spoken about in small circles and with caution lest the discussants have to face the inquisition next.
The brazen covert part of the operation ‘silence-the-media’ has been the arrest of Kashmir Narrator’s Assistant Editor Aasif Sultan (on 27 August 2018). The State was unmoved by huge media outcry in Kashmir and outside and protests by the local media fraternity. Despite appeals, it went ahead and booked him under false, flimsy and unsubstantiated charges. The subtext of Aasif’s arrest is the coverage of several events and personalities by Kashmir Narrator, a fact borne by questions posed to Aasif by the police during his detention and subsequent physical and mental interrogation.
While the crackdown seems in sync with the reigning ideology, the local ‘mainstream’ rulers have played a nefarious role in the silencing of the media in Kashmir and taking the curbs to the current pathetic levels. Remember, it was in the PDP-led government that newspapers were banned for three days and FIRs filed against newspaper owners during the 2016 agitation. Mehbooba Mufti’s vitriolic attack on journalists in presence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh at a press conference is as sinister as behind-the-screen intimidation of the media. Both are aimed at forcing the media into a state in which the threat serves as a kind of direction to what and how to report and omit.
In such a situation, only solidarities can come to our rescue. Solidarities that are formed on the basis of shared concerns, not personal considerations.
—This editorial appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s December 2018 issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, mail us here: [email protected] or call at 7298102560