In Kashmir, the Press is Gagged; a Refusal to Face Reality Continues

17 July 2016
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.” The story was banned by the state government.
Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
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.” The story was banned by the state government.
Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

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.”

Praveen Donthi  is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: violence protests Kashmir press freedom Burhan Wani armed forces
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