On the night of 15 July 2016, with midnight raids to offices and printing presses, the state government in Kashmir banned the 16-July edition of the newspapers from printing. The police seized the printed copies. In an online report, Greater Kashmir, the state’s largest newspaper, said that the police seized more than 50,000 printed copies of its Urdu newspaper Kashmir Uzma; printing plates were snatched away and employees, beaten. The lead story of the banned front page bore the headline: “Bloodbath continues.” Greater Kashmir is usually seen as pro-establishment. Its owner, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo, is at times considered the most powerful man in the state.
Cellphone services, mobile internet, and cable television access have been snapped across the valley—BSNL mobile service is working, but only in pockets. “We are not able to understand the pattern of this mobile blockade, the why and how of it,” a journalist told me. Journalists are cut off from their offices; everyone is working like an island. On Saturday afternoon, newspaper editors and owners in Srinagar held an emergency meeting. Kashmir Life, a weekly magazine, later reported that when the group at the meeting contacted the government spokesperson, he said: “In view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir valley in the next three days aimed at subverting peace, strict curfew will be imposed, and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible.”
In the past week, over 40 Kashmiris—mostly youth protesting the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani—have died, and over 2,000 people have been injured. Many have lost their eyesight due to indiscriminate use of pellet guns by the security forces. Protests have been raging like prairie fires, and the government’s ban on the local Kashmiri press has given Delhi’s media the freedom to control the narrative.
Yesterday, Kashmir Reader, a daily, published a harrowing story on atrocities committed by the Central Reserve Police Force, headlined, “CRPF men brutalise family, attempt to rape and kill.” According to the story, local policemen rescued a family from CRPF personnel, who had ambushed it on its way to Srinagar. The personnel had sexually abused the daughter, and threatened to kill the son, claiming he was a militant and Wani’s ally. The state government blocked the story. Hilal Mir, the Reader’s editor, told me that the CRPF threatened the paper’s editor-in-chief and its owner. (Mir’s comments, as told to me over a call on WhatsApp, have been reproduced below.) Many in Kashmir shared the text of the story on social media. Until early this morning, the link was accessible outside the state. The reporter for the story, Umar Mushtaq, told me that the rescued family has fled the state, fearing backlash.
When I first contacted the CRPF for a response, the public-relations officer Rajesh Yadav said that he hadn’t heard about the story and that he would get back to me with a response. But, he added: “Since this whole episode has started, our boys have shown maximum restraint in spite of such violent protests.” When I contacted him again after a couple of hours, he repeated his words. “It’s totally baseless. It’s purely a case of maligning the reputation of the force.”
The story was corroborated when Muhammad Ashraf Pual, the officer in-charge of the police post at Sangam—where the incident took place—spoke about it with the Srinagar-based news agency CNS. The police have been particularly brutal during the protests, and Pual saw the incident as an attempt to salvage his reputation. This is what it took for the story of the CRPF’s excesses to come to light.
Reproduced below are excerpts from a conversation with Hilal Mir, the editor of Kashmir Reader.
There is nothing surprising about [the ban on the press]. They want their propaganda machines to run smoothly. The local media was not only covering the mayhem but also questioning the Indian media propaganda. They have airdropped some people and they do it every time. On normal days they do it through other means like pressurising the owner and editor. Don’t you find it surprising that [the journalist] Barkha Dutt finds 1,500 people injured—whom she sees with her own eyes in the SHMS [Shri Maharaja Hari Singh] hospital—and then she goes to the Army Hospital and finds some 14 security people, sitting cosily on the beds, and she compares them both as if they are similar?
The employees of the printing press are frightened. They were detained yesterday [the night of 15 July]. They have to go at 11.30 pm in the night. In our case, the press is seven to eight kilometres away from the office. They are scared to travel that distance. How do we communicate with each other? I am at home. I have a broadband connection, but if I step outside I have no way to connect with people. The scale of the state brutalities is such that even the newspapers considered pro-establishment had to cover and write about the 40 deaths that had occurred. These people have been killed by the police and the CRPF. How can anybody not cover these events?
We have no idea about the scale of the repression that is going on. We know only in bits and pieces. It’s not just limited to South Kashmir. I went to the SMHS hospital day before yesterday and I saw victims from places such as Alestaing, only 13 kilometres away from Srinagar, and we had no idea that there were protests happening. There have been repeated protests at a place called Palapora that is hardly four to five kilometres from Srinagar, but we had no idea. We can’t go there either. It is only from the hospital that we learn about these things. The hospital has become a sort of an information bureau. It will take a very long time to uncover what has happened.
I agree with [the novelist and journalist] Mirza Waheed’s words: “I'm a 90s boy. Growing up in Kashmir, I saw, experienced a brutal, dark time. I don't remember such a vengeful assault on ordinary folk.”
The CRPF threatened our editor-in-chief Haji Hayat Mohammad Bhat when we published the story. Police have been most brutal. Ever since [former chief minister] Mufti Mohammad Sayeed integrated the Special Operations Group, the counter-insurgency outfit, into the police, the police force has become brutal. They crush dissent with the same counter-insurgency tactics. I won’t say the entire police force is like that but the system is structured in that way: to counter popular dissent with violence and torture.