Though nothing really shocks one in the fascist times we are destined to be living in, news of the sealing of the Kashmir Times office in Srinagar did shock us. Yes, it came as a jolt. After all, it was a vibrant newspaper office trying to hold out, trying to battle against all possible odds, trying bring out news and reports of the ground realities, to you and me. But then, perhaps, the government of the day does not want the readers to get to read what's ongoing in that conflict zone.
Its more than writ large that the establishment has been targeting the executive editor of the Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal , and her publisher husband, Prabodh Jamwal, because they have been strong and courageous and have not yielded to the governmental dictates and pressures. They are amongst the handful who have tried to keep afloat against the turbulent tide. Mind you, in today's set up this is a rare feat. Because the aftermath is not just very severe but absolutely hitting.Advertisements are withdraw from the targeted publications, newspaper offices and government allotted homes of journalists sealed and locked , cases slapped on journalists! Not to overlook the fact that journalists reporting from the Kashmir region have been often ruthlessly assaulted and even booked by the establishment.
It gets not just tough but risky to report from the Valley and I salute all those trying to bring news- reports to us.
In fact, the Kashmir Times is one of those publications which has been constantly focusing on the ground realities and human rights violations taking place in the Kashmir region. In fact, Anuradha's father , the latte Ved Bhasin sahib who'd established the Kashmir Times, had told me very categorically that he wanted his newspaper to focus on the people living in the Kashmir region and what they are going through. I had met Ved Bhasin sahib at least three times in the Kashmir Times office in Srinagar and each time he'd sounded very concerned about the Kashmir region and its inhabitants. And I'd also heard him speak at seminars held in New Delhi.
I recall the first time I met and heard him in 2007 at a day- long seminar held in Jamia Millia Islamia's Academy of Third World Studies where he'd said, "There is an atmosphere of distrust and fear. All kinds of human rights abuses are taking place…as long as the Draconian laws stay, there will be a sense of insecurity among the people. No dialogue can take place in this climate of distrust and fear. How can normalcy return in this atmosphere?"
And in the book based on his life and times - Vedji &His Times –Kashmir : The Way Forward. Selected Works of Ved Bhasin - there's an entire chapter titled Jammu and Kashmir: Road Map for Dialogue, where this veteran journalist had listed several CBMs (Confidence Building Measures)which could prepare a ground for dialoguing to take off .However, there's also a note of caution. To quote - " It needs to be emphasized that there can be no 'peaceful negotiated settlement' of Kashmir without the full and active participation of all sections of the people of Jammu and Kashmir living on both sides of the divided line. No solution should be imposed on the people of J&K and it should emerge through a process of multilevel dialogue."
The fact is that journalists and photo - journalists in the Valley have always faced severe hurdles. In 2018, I heard the head of the journalism department of the Islamic University of Science and Technology ( IUST, situated on the outskirts of Srinagar, in Awantipora) ,Dr Ruheela Hassan, speak at a seminar held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University( Centre for Media Studies), focusing on the difficulties faced by the journalists in the Valley –" The struggle of media in Kashmir throughout its evolution is witness that the media in Kashmir has never enjoyed real freedom. Be it the Dogra Rule in 1924, nationalist government (1947-1953), Sheikh Abdullah (1948 - 1953), Ghulam Mohamad Bakshi (1953-1963), Ghulam Mohamad Sadiq (1964-1971), National Conference (1975-1982/1986-1990), media in Kashmir has never breathed in free air. At one time, the state was resistant to granting permission and when the permission was granted their freedom was curbed, strict laws and regulation like Jammu and Kashmir Press and Publication Act of 1932 were introduced and implemented to ban publications, seize printing presses, or demand heavy securities from the journalists.
After India gained independence, it guaranteed freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens including the citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, but nothing changed for the press. Older laws were amended and new laws were implemented to muzzle the press. …The inordinate circumstances in Kashmir from 1990s further worsened the scenario. Not only the freedom of expression was endangered, but there were now increased threats to the life of journalists. Their freedom of movement and right to assess information was also snatched. Several journalists lost their lives and many were put behind bars. Journalists also fought several battles with the state. Some struggles they won (withdrawing of Press Bill by state) and some they lost."
Dr Ruheela Hassan had also detailed, "A survey has revealed that 77% of the valley journalists said that they have faced restrictions of one form or other while performing their professional duties:
21 % of the valley journalists have been booked or summoned by the state or national authorities (mostly booked under draconian laws like OSA, PSA, security of the state)
• 20 journalists killed.
• Several kidnapped and illegally detained.
• More than 25 injured.
• 80% of valley journalists believe that no freedom of expression is enjoyed by them as guaranteed."
Today, of course, the challenges stand compounded . With journalists and their homes and newspaper offices and news agencies getting so very blatantly targeted, its time to wake up. Yes, its about time to cry halt to these fascist moves. Otherwise we shall sit deprived of our daily news!
Leaving you with this verse from writer – journalist- commentator Nilofar Suhrawardy's latest book 'This is Love! : Poems on Love, Anguish & More' :
" Life is …I have heard
Hanging from a thin thread,
A moving pendulum
Which is so weighed down
that it is just
of time that vibrate it
slightly to and fro
Life is for me,An emptiness
I can't combat,
An awareness of an hollowness everywhere
in everyone all around me.
I detest it.
But something tells me,
Eventually that hollowness
will eat into me
gnaw away the very roots
of my existence,
whether I fight it
will seep the life out
And it eventually maybe
my death too…"