AT 1.45 PM, on 15 January, an armoured cavalcade rolled onto the premises of the Kashmir Press Club—Kashmir’s largest body representing journalists—in Polo View, abutting Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. There had been heightened police presence at the club since the day before, with roving patrols across the road outside. That afternoon, a police officer had told reporters, “We will leave once sahab comes and takes charge.” Surrounded by paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel, Saleem Pandit, an assistant editor with the Times of India, got out of the Ambassador car at the head of the cavalcade and quickly went up to a conference room on the first floor.
Eleven other journalists, many of whom were known to be close to the current unelected administration of Jammu and Kashmir, entered the conference room and sealed the doors shut. Outside the door stood three police personnel armed with assault rifles, glowering at the worried staff and members of the club. Members of the police’s Crime Investigation Department—which has recently morphed into the administration’s most efficient tool against outspoken Kashmiri journalists—also roamed the corridors. An hour later, the 12 journalists walked out of the room and announced that they were “taking over.”
A crowd of club members had formed outside, despite a lockdown that had been announced to combat the most recent COVID-19 surge. Soon afterwards, our phones began pinging, almost in unison. We all received a WhatsApp message, a statement signed by Pandit and two others. “The elected body served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021,” it read. “As the previous committee delayed the elections for unknown reasons the club was headless, thereafter for around six months, putting media fraternity to unwanted trouble.”