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‘A lot of censorship is unseen’ — India-held Kashmir paper survives despite govt gag

MUZAFFARABAD: At around 8.15pm on Oct 2, a group of policemen entered the premises of Kashmir Reader, a small but popular English-language daily in Srinagar, the summer capital of India-held Kashmir, with an order from a district magistrate to halt publishing. The magistrate’s order had said that the publication “…contains material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace … in Jammu and Kashmir in general and Srinagar district in particular.” The order was sent to 10 printing pres­ses in Srinagar, where the paper could be published under the conditions of its declaration.
Hilal Ahmed Mir

According to Hilal Ahmed Mir, the editor, it wasn’t only about gagging the press in a blatant show of the state’s power and might but was also about the brazen disregard of the fourth pillar which had been functioning in held-Kashmir in trying circumstances.

The ban was lifted this week and the newspaper hit the stands on Wednesday with a front-page editorial headlined: UNSHACKLED — We are back!

Speaking to Dawn over the telephone, the paper’s 41-year-old editor discussed the circumstances leading up to the ban and the repressive atmosphere in which local publications continue to work.

Q: Why was Kashmir Reader targeted?

A: We reported some uncomfortable truths and a government facing a popular mass uprising likes truth the least. Maybe they had problems with the language we used. I am at a loss trying to understand how a newspaper that has been reporting events with journalistic sincerity incites violence?

Q: Was it the decision of Mehbooba Mufti’s government or the government in Delhi?

A: It makes no difference as to who banned the newspaper because the popular perception is that all governments in Jammu and Kashmir do New Delhi’s bidding.

Q: What did you do during the ban?

A: We staged protests on roads, regularly met at the office and prepared for the day the ban would be lifted. We had pep talks to keep our morale high and negotiated with the government. In my spare time, I would read and meet friends.

Q: What was the response from readers and colleagues from other publications?

A: A man from Kulgam, an area about 60km from Srinagar where the uprising was most intense, walked into our office a few days after the ban and offered his entire savings of 10,000 rupees “if that could help us”. There was a glut of supportive messages on social media networking sites. The majority of the journalists in the local media community stood by us like a rock and urged the government to lift the ban.

Q: Did you get support from Indian civil society, media outlets and international journalistic bodies?

A: The International Federation of Journalists and the Amnesty International, among many other organisations, voiced opposition to the ban. Several Indian media outlets gave my write-ups space and many Indian journalists wrote columns against the ban. We are grateful to them.

Q: Now that the ban is lifted, how do you feel?

A: It feels like being in my element again; like being released from a prison.

Q: Have you brought changes to your editorial policy to avoid similar action in the future?

A: No.

Q: How would you describe the circumstances in which media, particularly state-based papers, are working?

A: You can imagine the repressive atmosphere in which a newspaper was banned for almost three months “on charges of inciting violence”. A case has been filed against one of our reporters. A photojournalist was blinded in one eye with pellet ammunition even when he asked a policeman not to shoot. A lot of censorship is unseen and unsayable because it is executed in subtle ways.

Q: How important is Kashmir’s local media?

A: I believe the local media is the biggest check on propagandist reportage by a majority of Indian media outlets, especially TV channels, which cannot see the eruptions past the prism of ‘national interest’.

Q: Do you think the threat of closure still looms?

A: It never ended.

courtesy : dawn news



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