The valley of Kashmir has been in a state of constant turmoil ever since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8. While the use of pellet guns by security forces has led to children, women and men being blinded, stone pelting by protesters has resulted in serious casualties on the side of security personnel.
The media has not been spared either. In July, the government raided and seized the printing press of several newspapers. Printed copies of several newspapers including Kashmir Uzma were confiscated. There were also reports of television cable connections being snapped.
At that time, J&K Education Minister Naeem Akhtar justified the gagging of the press by citing extraordinary circumstances. “It is a temporary measure to address an extraordinary situation. In our opinion, there is an emotional lot, very young, out in the field, who get surcharged due to certain projections in the media, which results in multiplication of tragedies,” Akhtar had told The Indian Express.
Problems persisted once the ban subsided. Weeks later, the separatists accused the local media of being scared of publishing poster advertisements issued by them. “We had issued a paid poster appeal requesting MLAs’, MLCs’ and other pro-India politicians to introspect their conscience and stop acting as a local mask to the Indian brutalities. Everyone agreed to publish it as (poster advertisement) but none of them except Kashmir Reader and Tameel Irshad had dared to publish it,” said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman, Hurriyat Conference.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media also faced troubling accusations. On one hand, channels like Times Now and Zee News were criticized for taking an ultra-nationalist position on the episode, while other news organisations including NDTV were targeted by some for allegedly portraying Burhani Wani as a fallen hero.
If this was not enough, journalists have routinely faced physical intimidation and harassment at the hands of both the security forces and locals. “The journalists in Kashmir walk on the razor’s edge. On one hand the people label us “agents” for siding with the state and not telling the truth and showing the “real” picture, while on the other hand the government forces rough up and harass us, labelling us “Pakistan or Hurriyat sympathisers” who are adding fuel to the deteriorating situation,” wrote Daanish bin Nabi of Rising Kashmir for The Wire.
While his female colleague Sumaiya Yosouf was beaten-up by an IPS officer, he along with two photojournalists faced the ire of a local mob at a city hospital in Srinagar. When exchange4media asked Muzamil Jaleel about the precautions that journalists were taking in the heated atmosphere, he replied that “there are no precautions” at such a place.
“It depends on situation to situation. If you are in the middle of a protest then you can’t do anything. Two of our local press photographers in Kashmir were hit by pellet guns,” said Jaleel, Deputy Editor & Kashmir Bureau Chief at The Indian Express.
Author and journalist David Devadas felt that Kashmir was in a war-like situation heading towards further dangerous times. “I really don’t know what precautions journalists can take except be cautious,” he said.
He highlighted the need for journalists to come together as a community to support and express solidarity with fellow journalists operating in the valley. “In places like New Delhi, pressure should be put on the government to allow journalists to visit places in Kashmir and write what they want to because in situations like these there is a subtle intimidation,” he added.
But an imminent solution is not likely. “Both the Press Council of India and Editor’s Guild of India had told the government that what is happening is not apt,” said Prakash Dubey, Group Editor, Dainik Bhaskar & Member, Press Council of India.
“I am hopeful that in the next meeting of PCI, we will have a discussion on this subject,” he emphasized. However, what remains to be seen is how constructively dialogue will translate into substantial actions on the ground so as to safeguard the lives of people in Kashmir including journalists.