NEW DELHI: India’s government is muzzling media in occupied Kashmir as part of the lockdown it imposed on the disputed region a month ago, according to a new report by two rights networks.
The study comes after Delhi revoked India-held Kashmir’s autonomy on Aug 5 and sent in tens of thousands of extra troops to reinforce the half a million already there.
Published earlier this week, the study said reporters were being subjected to surveillance, informal investigations and harassment for publishing reports considered adverse to the Indian government or its security forces.
Titled “News Behind The Barbed Wire”, its findings reveal “a grim and despairing picture of the media in held Kashmir, fighting for survival against the most incredible of odds”.
It also highlighted that recent editorials in major Kashmir papers covered only harmless topics, such as the benefits of Vitamin A and “Should you consume caffeine during summer?”
“This is intrinsically undemocratic and harmful, as it privileges the voices of authority and weakens those who speak truth to power,” the report said of the situation faced by the media in the disputed Himalayan region.
Published by the Network of Women in Media, India and the Free Speech Collective, the report was prepared by two journalists who spent five days in held Kashmir and spoke to more than 70 journalists, local administration officials and citizens.
An official in the Information and Broadcast Ministry said on Friday it could not offer any immediate comments as it had yet to see the report.
The government has also restricted movement and curtailed phone and internet services, ostensibly to control unrest in a region where men, even teenagers, have waged an armed campaign against Indian rule since 1989.
The Indian government claims the situation in the disputed region is normal and that the curbs are being eased gradually. But since Aug 5, at least 500 protests and incidents of stone throwing have occurred and some 4,000 people have been detained, according to multiple sources.
Meanwhile, the government in India-held Kashmir has said landline telephone service has been restored a month into a communications blackout imposed early last month.
People lined up at offices or homes that have landline telephones to try to contact family and friends after the long wait, but many were unable to get through after repeated attempts.
“Our landlines have been restored but we are still unable to talk to people. It is frustrating. I have been trying to call people since morning, but I am not getting through,” said Syed Mushahid, in Srinagar.
Many Kashmiris living outside the Himalayan region also said they were having trouble getting in touch with their families inside held Kashmir.
“I kept trying a hundred times to reach my family in Kashmir, and only then did my call go through,” said Bint-e-Ali, a Kashmiri in the Indian city of Bengaluru.
She said she still hasn’t been able to talk to her ailing grandmother in Srinagar. “I hope I live to tell this horrendous tale to our next generation about how India didn’t even let us talk to our family and friends,” she said.
Srinagar resident Firdous Ahmad said the restoration of landline service “definitely brings a sigh of relief” but he also hoped cellphone and internet data services, which are more widely used, would be restored soon.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2019