Why banning ‘Kashmir Reader’ is symptomatic of deceitful democracy that exists in Kashmir

Sajjad Lone was then a member of the mendicant All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Lone requested our batch mates that whenever he speaks we must clap. This disappointed some of my batch mates and a few of them did not participate in the debate.

Kashmir journalists protest ban on local daily Kashmir Reader in Srinagar.
Kashmir journalists protest ban on local daily Kashmir Reader in Srinagar.

Thomas Jefferson famously remarked on newspapers: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” What Jefferson said after becoming president is symptomatic of the deceitful nature of democracy. Twenty years later, when the same Jefferson was president of the USA, he said, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper”. Democracy is a crocodile without any ethics or morals. It has no qualms in eating up its own children. While in democracy the press is touted as the fourth estate it is subjected to conditions. The press must toe the line of the state in matters of national interest, and should not question the state institutions even if individuals are targeted.

The pro India PDP came to the forefront in 2002 elections after the Indian state launched Operation Parakram forcing Pakistan to agree to a ceasefire on the borders and ceasing militant activities in Kashmir. Its acceptance in Kashmir owns mainly to the largest socio-politico-religious organisation of Kashmir, Jamaat-e-Islami. A number of intellectuals, academics and journalists joined PDP following reports that militants were giving cover to the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led party during election rallies. Most of the political commentators who used to write for the daily “Greater Kashmir” and weekly Chattan in the 90s and in the early aughts were smitten by the PDP. For them the PDP was a “change” that would act as a balm on the wounds of Kashmir! It is no surprise that this party is filled with former journalists, academics and political commentators.

In 2003, while studying journalism, our batch was asked to participate in an Indian news channel programme hosted by Vikram Chandra of NDTV. The debate was held in the SKICC and Sajjad Lone was one of the panelists. He was then a member of the mendicant All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Lone requested our batch mates that whenever he speaks we must clap. This disappointed some of my batch mates and a few of them did not participate in the debate. Five years later at the same news channel Lone told the anchor of the programme to shut the audio of his fellow panelist, a resident of Jammu city, who was not listening to what he was saying. Today, Lone is a cabinet minister in the PDP-BJP government. When he along with his Peoples Conference party joined pro-India politics, a section intellectuals felt that resistance people were not able to handle Lone’s oratory and intellectualism!

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There is Haseeb Drabu, who is/was fondly introduced as the only journalist of Kashmir to become the editor of the Business Standard. The same Drabu was yapping when Syed Ali Geelani refused to have private talks with the Indian parliamentary delegation and shut the door on their face. He was the person who wanted Edward Said to born in Kashmir and lamented, “It is utter passivity of Kashmiri which is frustrating”. But when a small English newspaper breaks this passivity his “Kashmiriyat” hides within the Indian Sanskriti.

Nayeema Ahmad Majhoor, a former BBC broadcaster, who once while delivering a lecture at MERC, University of Kashmir, equated the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Mohandas Gandhi when the former was equated with Jawaharlal Nehru.

There is Nizamuddin Bhat, a former journalist, who accused– in 2010– the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister of taking Rs.500 crore as kickback in a power project. Later his daughter was appointed as PRO in SKIMS. The grapevine at that time was that the two contesting rivals had done a deal. Recently, the Editor of “Kashmir Life” newspaper termed Bhat as a snake among journalists.

The present rural development minister Abdul Haq Khan was a former editor of the Urdu daily Roudad-i-Jahan.

There is ZafarMeraj, who owns Kashmir Monitor newspaper, and a fierce reporter of the 1990s.

There is Zaffar Iqbal Manhas a “household” name during the 1990s for his political commentaries and interviews in the Urdu weekly Chattan.

Suhail Bukhari, who worked with an Indian news channel, Waheed ur Rehman Parra and other minions.

There is Syed Basharat Bukhari also who worked for many years in Radio Kashmir and whose father runs a daily English newspaper.

And then there is Naeem Akhtar Andrabi, a character artist according to the situation and master of cant language. He used to frequent the office of Kashmir Times and then to Greater Kashmir. When the PDP is out of power he wields his pen under various names to launch “ideological jihad” against rival political parties, when in power he wields his influence in silencing dissenters and remains at the forefront to defend anti-press decisions of the government. He was one of five employees in the 1990s who was dismissed from the services triggering an almost three-month strike of government employees (His government terminated 12 government officials recently). He was reinstated, and then used to frame policies in the secretariat only to trash them in his columns under various pen names. This continued until the PDP government came and he starting singing paeans under various pen names.

My news or no news

In 2007, two English dailies and one weekly newspaper started publications with fanfare and the undeclared objective to become a competitor of the largest circulating newspaper, Greater Kashmir. Two among them were rumoured to have the blessings of the PDP. While the pro-India politician late Molvi Ifthikar Hussain Ansari overtly owned daily Etalaat, the other was rumoured to have been a covert media adventure of the PDP government. It started under the editorship of Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, who is the father of a PDP cabinet minister. At the same time a weekly English newspaper was also launched and rumoured to have been financed by the then JK Bank chairman, who’s now a cabinet minister in the PDP.

Why did the PDP need to have its own newspaper? Almost every powerful political party owns either a newspaper or satellite channel in India. Since the PDP was also considered a proxy of the largest socio-politico-religious organisation of Kashmir, it was only keeping with the intellectual mood of that organisation. Jamaat-e-Islami is an erudite organisation formed on the pattern of Communist party. So it was essential for the PDP to have its own propaganda machinery which would absolve them of being collaborators.

The PDP, importantly, wanted to control opinion and news coverage in Kashmir. For the PDP the largest circulating English newspaper’s editor was way too smart for them to be brought under their control. The largest circulating newspaper keeps every ruling dispensation in good humour but in between, to keep its credibility among the readers, it sprinkles some chilies as well.

The other newspapers smartly toe the line of the PDP. But since calling here any one as an Indian is an affront, the newspaper editors make sure that they are not bracketed as such so in public. So they write in a language which the common masses are unable to decipher. For example when the current phase of uprising started an editor of one such English language newspaper started to bleat out on the Indian channels that agitations are taking place because of the use of pellet guns! Since then it has become a favourite thing with Indian and Kashmir intellectuals, forgetting that people are protesting in support of Burhan Wani, and what his companion Zakir Bhat asked people to do in his latest video: continue agitation!

One more example of how these newspapers serve the PDP interests is the supposed ban on publications in July this year. There was a tremendous pressure on the editors from reporters and the people to publish stories and pictures of troopers’ atrocities. But on a mere phone call and mere suggestion that “movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible”, these newspapers decided that a ban has been imposed on the publication of newspapers. Perhaps it gave them excuse to stop many stories and pictures from publishing. The government later denied and rightly so, asked them to carry on publishing. There was no written communication of ban being enforced. The editors, fearing damage to their already damaged journalistic credentials, then demanded a written order of lifting the ban. That order never came.

The newspaper also reported a story titled “CRPF men brutalise family, attempt to rape and kill” (which unfortunately “Kashmir Reader” pulled down due to pressure from the government. (Click here to read the story).

The joining of so many journalists in PDP and the covert support of many columnists and academics has not opened up the party to tolerate dissent. The power has not only calcified the party itself but its intellectuals and embedded journalists as well. This is perhaps one of the reasons that an intellectual like AG Noorani, who was a PDP votary, has drifted away and today writes seething reports against it. Among all the PDP sympathetic journalists, Mohammad Sayeed Malik was the lone voice who condemned the government’s act of banning the “Kashmir Reader” and regularly spoke in favour of it.

This boasting reportedly prompted one Pakistani journalist to reply, ‘What are you doing here. Musharraf needs you in Waziristan’”.

Why “Kashmir Reader” was banned

Showkat Ahmad Motta led the foundation of the daily Kashmir Reader, he was also responsible for starting a pioneer news magazine in Kashmir “The Conveyor”. Motta’s endeavour in keeping the “Kashmir Reader” as an independent newspaper continued under the editorship of Mir Hilal, who, unlike other editors of the Valley still reports from the ground. His reportage on the murder of a young woman at DH Pora deflated the government claim that the people were fired after they torched a police station. The “Kashmir Reader” does not have many reporters but whoever is there is given time to file his story. That is why whenever they report any important story they go with details, which other newspapers do not take care of. The newspaper also reported a story titled “CRPF men brutalise family, attempt to rape and kill” (which unfortunately “Kashmir Reader” pulled down due to pressure from the government. (Click here to read the story).

The same newspaper was perhaps the first to report that troops are burning paddy fields in rural areas.  While other newspapers in Kashmir play a deceitful role in reporting such events, for example some newspapers put the pictures of crops being burnt by the forces on their Facebook page but the same pictures are not put in their print editions and moreover they didn’t report it, or if reported gets is minimal: a single line.  “Kashmir Reader” is the same newspaper that had the temerity to report how the Hurriyat leaders in Kashmir sell MBBS seats reserved in Pakistan for Kashmir youth. Before that in 2014, during the assembly elections, “Kashmir Reader” carried a story in which it stated that one of the founders of the dreaded Special operations Group of police, Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari, had addressed a PDP election rally in Kupwara. The report quoted that a decade ago, “(B)ukhari reportedly told a journalists’ delegation from Pakistan that he had killed more than 300 militants in the areas under his jurisdiction. This boasting reportedly prompted one Pakistani journalist to reply, ‘What are you doing here. Musharraf needs you in Waziristan’”. This story thwarted the political carrier of Bukhari, and he threatened Motta, the then editor of the “Kashmir Reader”, by saying “Did I kill any of your relatives?”  The ex-SoG officer then presciently warned the editor, “I will see you. Today is your day, tomorrow would be mine” (Ex-SOG man AshiqBukhari threatens to ‘teach’ KR Editor ‘a lesson’, KR Nov 8, 2014). When the PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar was asked about Bukhari being referred as a  “senior leader” in their press note, he fobbed off the reporter with these words, “I read his name in the press release. I don’t know anything about his joining the party.” It was a deceitful admission because such things of “casually” mentioning notorious ex-SoG officer in a press note are done to get acceptance from the people and the intellectual class. Only the Editor of Kashmir Reader could see through it, which Akhtar, as a habit, tried to fob off.

Now look at what the government order banning the “Kashmir Reader” reads: inciting violence. Kashmir Reader is an English language newspaper. Kashmiri is the mother language here while the Urdu is the official language of Kashmir, but the government is accusing an English newspaper of inciting violence! According to the government those involved in protests against the military occupation are the poor people. The fact is that the poor people do not understand English or buy English language newspaper. How can then an English newspaper incite violence? “It has been observed that the contents published in the above newspaper,” reads the order of deputy commissioner of Srinagar, “is of such nature that it can easily cause incitement of acts of violence (sic) and disturbance of public tranquillity in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Srinagar district in particular.”  To say they were inciting people is not only rubbish but far from facts. In a place where the top Indian army commanders saying “talks must be initiated” is construed as a defeat by the Indian public, the “Reader” in its September 20 editorial vouches for “embracing democracy”. How can such a newspaper which writes: “The only way to avoid the possibility of a nuclear winter in the region is by embracing the truest principle of democracy, a free vote to the people of Kashmir on both sides of the bloody dividing line. Kashmir has been waiting to become a harbinger and saviour of true democracy in the region,” be accused of inciting violence. The fact is that the “Reader” was emerging as an alternate voice in a place where the PDP wants to control every opinion and news.But, as I said earlier, democracy is not based on morals.

With such kind of bans enforced it may not be of surprise if Kashmir Reader may also try to find solace in some pro-India political party. For it seems obvious that the government here wants that every newspaper should toe the line of pro-India parties.

As the editor of “Kashmir” Reader recalled the problem is that the administration has “been largely unresponsive and unprofessional”. This can be easily corroborated from newspapers. In Kashmir when any protestor is put under the notorious PSA usually newspaper headline says: Police slaps PSA. Which is incorrect. It is the deputy commissioners of respective districts who approve the police dossiers and sign the notorious PSA. But no DC would ever talk to a reporter on such issues. The Indian state wants the people of Kashmir to turn into nuts and bolts and so such things are not questioned, and if questioned not given any space.

Perfunctory solidarity

What is shaming in the entire process is the lack of solidarity on part of other newspapers. An odd editorial here and there is good for public consumption, but failing to grill the political administration on why a particular newspaper was banned is sheer hypocrisy. Most newspapers carried the news of ban on the “Kashmir Reader” since October 2 in the same perfunctory manner.  No one sought the PDP spokesman for his opinion or comments. This time the editors did not call the PDP spokesman, didn’t hold meetings to pressurise the government. All the editors of the Valley could have come together and sought answers from the government instead they went on with their business and may have even been delighted that they are one competitor less now.

Democracy has the habit of devouring its own child just like a crocodile does it with lazy elegance. The case of ‘Kashmir Reader’ is a testimony that democracy has no morals and ethics and that its existence is exploitative.

(The author is a resident of Srinagar. Submit your writings to news@Kashmirdispatch.com)