THERE could not be two more starkly opposed media environments. Indian news outlets that parrot the government line on India-held Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370 that stripped the territory of its special status a few days ago are in full cry. On the other hand, the media in IHK has been gagged in a manner taken straight out of a fascist’s playbook with a total communication blackout in force since Aug 4. Media persons are smuggling out information and images on flash drives to be hand-carried by people travelling out of the area. Photojournalists, given the nature of their work and the overwhelming security presence on the streets, are quite literally first in the line of fire. A report on the situation by the Committee to Protect Journalists quotes the one editor it could reach on the ground as saying that a group of journalists were thrashed by Indian police when one of them took a photograph of a security barricade in Srinagar. For the rest of the accounts in its report, the CPJ has had to rely on journalists who have travelled out of IHK. The snippets of information paint a dire picture of a media unable to do its job, except by resorting to subterfuge akin to an underground resistance. For instance, the few papers still publishing, which have cut down their pages drastically, are being circulated mostly at night. Reporters are gathering information surreptitiously; moving around without a press card is easier than with one, which instantly restricts mobility and carries the risk of physical violence.
A sham democracy is never more exposed for what it is than when it treats journalists as the ‘enemy’. Preventing the voices of the Kashmiris from reaching the wider public is evidence that India knows its actions in the territory are immoral and illegal, and will be judged so by the world. Depriving the local population of their right to information, that too at such a catastrophic turn of events, is equally reprehensible. Compounding the injustice is that the narrative, as detailed in a report in this paper recently, is being hijacked by a deluge of misinformation and half-truths on social media. There is no on-the-ground reporting from Kashmir or sources of information available for fact-checking websites to debunk fake news. The result is a vicious free-for-all between the two sides of the divide where the truth is the biggest casualty.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019