Modi’s stringent policies have taken away the freedom of the Kashmiri people, but that’s not all; their voices have also been chained. Journalism, an institution supposed to be free from influences of all kinds, has been stripped of its independence and freedom. The media is supposed to act as a watchdog on the unchecked abuse of power by the ruling elite, but these rights have been snatched away from the journalists in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Their voices have been reduced to mere shells and their words deprived of might. Being a journalist in Kashmir has become as dangerous as it is being a soldier on the battlefield.
The tales of the repression of journalism in Indian Occupied Kashmir are endless. Journalists are threatened, their stories are heavily censored, critical thought and political dissent is silenced, and often, people are harassed for speaking up against the authoritarian state control. Journalists working in Kashmir have given their personal accounts of being laboriously interrogated by security and counterinsurgency forces. They have been treated like threats and are always under the radar of painful interrogation that lasts for hours at a time.
The personnel investigating these journalists ask them to present evidence of where they get their news from; one journalist reported that his phone and laptop were taken away for ‘examination.’ Reporters feel as if they have no privacy here. (Al Jazeera 2020) The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also taken notice of such incidents and reprimanded the Indian government for their atrocities.
When the Indian government revoked article 370 and put Occupied Kashmir under lockdown in 2019, internet services were also confiscated. For many months, people could not access the internet at all. After almost seven months, the internet started getting restored, although only partially. The Indian government said in February 2021, more than a year since the brutal Kashmiri lockdown, that it was going to start restoring 4G mobile data services. This gap that the valley suffered from has also contributed to the obstruction of the free press. With no internet services available, how could journalists report on the actual conditions of the area? Ever since the retraction of the article, the valley has seen a heavy crackdown on free speech, especially that which is feared to be that of dissent.
The International Press Institute (IPI) had also stepped in during this time and asked the Indian government to restore internet services in the vicinity. They commented that this restriction hindered the journalists from “reporting about developments in remote parts of Kashmir.” (Al Jazeera 2020) Due to a ban on social media and high-speed internet, it became difficult for journalists to receive and relay information, which drastically impacted their reporting process. Many journalists had reported to IPI that the police would often come around and demand the journalists to reveal the ‘sources’ of their news. These reporters are not just questioned; there are concerns of alleged assault as well.
The journalists in Occupied Kashmir had also reported many other incidents and complained against the officials, but the BJP continued to claim that they had heard of no such complaints and that no such thing had happened. They even went as far as to declare that the local papers had been running smoothly, which is genuinely a bit of a stretch, considering the conditions of the journalists that were just laid down earlier in this article. If the press reporters are going through such troubled waters, how are the papers making ‘smooth’ progress?
Another alarming incident occurred in October 2020, when an Indian anti-terror organization searched several locations in Kashmir. These locations included a newspaper office and the home of a journalist. The intelligence agency stated that it had received reports that these areas were receiving funding for separatist activities. (Peerzada 2020) One can easily find first-hand accounts from journalists who share their personal stories of being mistreated by either the police or by other authorities.
One such story comes from fifty-two-year-old Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor at a local newspaper, Kashmir Times. In October 2020, their office was sealed by the authorities, who did not state a reason for this act. Bhasin believed that this had happened because the authorities had a “vendetta” against the paper since they had been speaking out against the brutalities of the government in the area and Bhasin herself had testified at supreme court against the communications blockade in Kashmir. (Peerzada 2020)
In December 2019, police beat two journalists covering a protest, Azaan Javaid and Anees Zargar. Apparently, they had done this out of resentment as the two reporters had previously published news articles against those police officers. (Heikura 2020) Situations like this have created a constant air of paranoia amongst journalists where they fear for their lives with every story they write. The journalists publish articles, and then they wait for a knock on their door. The fear has been manifesting like that of a boogieman. If the situation does not start to improve, there might be irreparable damages to the state of journalism in the occupied valley.
Another journalist Masrat Zahra stated that she knew many journalists who had quit the job because of how much fear the Indian officials had produced in the environment. Zahra has a police case opened against herself as well, in which she has been accused of “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention.” The reason behind this case is a photo that Zahra had uploaded almost two years ago of a procession where people were holding a poster of Burhan Wani( A freedom fighter who was martyred by the Indian Occupying Forces) . The police have not clarified why they consider this a threat. However, the case is still open against Zahra, who believes the authorities are doing this to send out a message of intimidation to other journalists.
This is not all; journalists in Kashmir have also faced travel restrictions. Some have not been allowed to travel abroad; some have been stopped from traveling even inside Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, just to prevent them from reporting on new developments in the area. The journalists inside of Kashmir have not been able to properly report on the human rights violations in the area, which is highly problematic. People rely on international media to publish news regarding the internal developments, which can often be incomplete due to the censorship of data from the area. (Bhat 2020)
In essence, it is not safe to be a journalist in Indian Occupied Kashmir anymore. If you report on truthful incidents or the brutalities of the genocidal state government, you risk harassment, assault, bullying, arrest and in some cases even death. Journalism has lost its true essence. The free press is not ‘free’ anymore as such. This problem became even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many claimed that the number of infected people and deaths in the area were not truthfully reported. The lack of authentic journalism also gave the Indian government the space to worsen its hold on Kashmir during the pandemic.
Journalists in Kashmir feel as if their rights have been taken away from them. They are demanding answers, they are demanding accountability, and above all, they are demanding action by international forums. They say that international organizations, especially media watchdogs, should condemn the actions of Modi’s government with much more force and force his party to uplift their exploitative policies. This might happen too if the pressure from the international bodies grows significant enough.
The biggest question one needs to ask here is that what sort of democracy is India claiming itself to be if it does not let journalism be free? Free press, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech are some of the most significant tenets of a democratic nation, and this is where India fails. This state of affairs extends to the rest of the country as well. The government has used multiple tactics to silence critics all over the state. This is one of the biggest reasons why the recent annual democracy report by Sweden’s V-dem institute has classified India as an electoral autocracy, a downgrade from its previous status as the “world’s largest democracy.”
The people of Kashmir have lost everything; rather, everything has been snatched away from them, forcefully. In the end, people’s voices are all they have left. When the press is chained in such ways, what do we leave the people with? If journalism is suppressed to such an extent inside the area, this means that the government can get away with doing anything because it will most probably be able to prevent reporting on its atrocities. These are the reasons why India’s squashing and censorship of journalism in Kashmir is such a huge problem, and why it needs to be dealt with, immediately.
Al Jazeera. 2020. Journalism in Kashmir in ‘state of repression’: Media watchdog. March 18. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/3/18/journalism-in-kashmir-in-state-of-repression-media-watchdog.
Bhat, Gulzar. 2020. Journalism in Kashmir going through tough times. April 21. https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/journalism-in-kashmir-going-through-tough-times.
Heikura, Minna. 2020. Journalism in Kashmir: State of repression. March 17. https://ipi.media/journalism-in-kashmir-state-of-repression/.
Peerzada, Aamir. 2020. The Kashmir journalists ‘harassed’ and ‘questioned’ for doing their job. October 31. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-54655948.