Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]
‘Recognise Kashmir as a Political Problem, Reach out to Kashmiris, Don’t Demonise them’
INTERVIEW OF RISING KASHMIR’S EDITOR ON CURRENT UNREST IN VALLEY
Monday 15 August 2016
The following is the interview of Shujaat Bukhari, Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir, Buland Kashmir (Urdu daily) and Sangarmal (Kashmiri daily) based in Srinagar, on the current situation in the Valley and the difficulties and hardships faced by the media in its functioning there. He replied to a set of questions (including one on what should be done now to improve the situation) from Mainstream.
1. You are one of the leading professional journalists in Kashmir who had been the J&K correspondent of The Hindu and now you edit the publication Rising Kashmir. How would you compare the situation prevailing in Kashmir today with the one obtaining in 1989-90 when the first wave of insurgency rocked the Valley?
Look, the situation is as grim as in 1989-90. The only difference is that in 1990 hundreds of Kashmiris had guns in their hands and of course lakhs of people were on streets demanding Azadi. But that was crushed with an iron hand by the government. The armed revolt in 1989 was the result of continued denial of political rights to the Kashmiris. New Delhi had adopted the practice of thrusting sham elections on the people. People still continued to repose faith in democracy and that is how they participated in the 1987 elections and widely supported the Muslim United Front. But that was rigged wholesale and you had one of the candidates, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, turning into the Hizbul Mujahideen Supreme Commander Syed Salahuddin, or his chief election agent, Yasin Malik, as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front commander. Democracy was throttled and it was the National Conference-Congress combine that did not allow people to restore faith in the democratic exercise. Pakistan always wanted to do something different in Kashmir and when the situation turned ripe for them after the 1987 elections, they embraced the Kashmiri youth and helped them to launch the armed struggle. It was the result of a long list of betrayals and deceit by Delhi.
Today Kashmiris have stones in their hands and it is a political unrest in which a completely new generation is involved. They are, as compared to the generation that spearheaded the movement in 1990, more educated and enlightened, given their access to educational opportunities and technology. They are more angry as they have seen India through the barrel of the gun only. The democratic spaces here are choked and as an example the Kashmir University does not allow a Students’ Union while in the Jammu University you have one. They (the youth) refuse to identify themselves with India. The more you kill them, the more will they be disconnected.
2.How would you compare the situation in the Valley today with the one in 2010 when a large number of stone-pelting young protesters were killed?
The pattern is same but what is worrying is that today people have come out to protest and get killed in the wake of the killing of a militant commander. Kashmiris had embraced a transition from violence to non-violence and that is how the peace process, launched in 2003, had the support of the people. But that intent to move ahead with non-violent political struggle was not recognised and instead New Delhi continues to term Kashmir as a law and order issue. Today when people are on streets braving curfew, bullets and a communication blockade, they have not a set a specific demand but they are asking for the resolution of the political dispute. Over 55 people have been killed and more than 3000 civilians injured. In the literal sense every single Kashmiri has been in jail for over 20 days.
2010 started with the killing of three innocents in a fake encounter in Machil by the Army and the subsequent killing of a teenager by a police shell; so it was for justice. But this time there is no demand except that of final resolution. However, the fact is that all the unrest stems from the political dispute that needs to be resolved.
3.As a professional journalist what are the impediments you are facing in carrying out your professional work?
We have been facing a lot of problems. Essentially of movement. Our newspapers were banned by the government for five days. Printing presses were raided and staff detained. If the police allows us to move in one area, the protesters would block you in the next as they think the media is not reflecting the situation honestly, referring to what a section of the Indian media is doing by demonising Kashmiris.
For us the restrictions are not new. Since the outbreak of armed rebellion in Kashmir in early 1990, the media in Kashmir has been on a razor’s edge. A small community though, it has lost 13 of its members to bullets from either side. Life threats, intimidation, arrests, censor-ship and beating have been part of the daily grind through which an average journalist has been going. It has been difficult to operate from this highest militarised zone. Journalists have been the target of state and non-state actors. A journalist in Kashmir has failed to keep the warring sides happy. If an atrocity by the government forces is reported, he may be dubbed as “anti-national” and highlighting the violation by non-state actors or the extra-political activities of separatists would mean that he is “anti-tehreek” (anti-movement) or a collaborator. A sword hanging over his head in both cases.
The newspapers have had a tough time during the 2008 and 2010 public unrest when the government forced them to suspend publi-cations by putting restrictions. When Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013, copies of newspapers were seized in a similar fashion and not allowed to circulate. This time, however, the government did not hide behind the slew of restrictions. Its spokesman, Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, was clear that there is a ban though a “reluctant decision”.
4.The authorities had recently imposed severe restrictions on the functioning of the press and the media in Kashmir. Would you agree that this was a direct attack on freedom expression that mediapersons enjoy in other parts of the country? Has the situation on that score improved by now? How would you interpret the authorities’ explanation in justification of such a move on their part?
Yes it certainly is a direct attack on freedom of the press. It has improved but the overall conditions remain the same. Not only are these restrictions hampering our work but for long the Government of India has been intimidating the Kashmir press. In 2010 five publications were barred from getting DAVP advertisements and an advisory was issued by the MHA. This year too two publications were banned from DAVP advertisements without any legal reason. The premise is that we “promote and glorify” separatists and militants. But this does not apply to national papers who cover them the same way. Certainly Kashmir is different for them and this is happening in the world’s largest democracy.
5.What, in your opinion, needs to be urgently done to improve the situation in the Valley? What is your expectation from the media in other parts of the country in solidarity with the media in Kashmir in this regard? What do you expect from the civil society organisations and democratic forces of the country in this hour of crisis that Kashmiris in general, and the media in Kashmir in particular, are going through?
See, the situation is simple. Recognise Kashmir as a political problem. Reach out to Kashmiris. Talk to them, listen to them. Don’t demonise them. Don’t challenge their intelligence by saying that they always play into the hands of Pakistan. You are yourself providing opportunities to Pakistan on a platter. Burhan Wani’s killing and subsequent situation did not get front-page coverage in the Pakistan press. PM Nawaz Sharief was forced to jump in by his opponents after three days. There are certainly elements in their establishment who would support trouble but introspect yourself how you are creating space for unrest in Kashmir as you don’t recognise the problem on the ground.
The Indian media, a section of it, has supported us this time. But civil society is dead and they also have fallen into the trap of “ultra- nationalism”. India needs a vibrant civil society that can save it from the radicalisation that is hitting its basic secular fundamentals.