Bashir Manzar

Look who is talking!

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Yes, I am shooting the messenger because the message is factually incorrect, and loaded with multiple agendas 

The received wisdom in Kashmir is that luxuries of life distort your perspective to the point of being disconnected from the reality. The apocalyptic story in Kashmir being that when the King was informed of a famine, he ordained that people must restrict themselves to a five course meal instead of a seven course one!

So too, with the liberties in life.

That is precisely the perspective Anuradha Bhasin, the Executive Editor of Kashmir Times puts out in a column “Kashmiri Editors Can’t Use Fear as an Excuse for Their Continued Silence” in The Wire. The burden of her song is that Kashmiri Editors are not reporting the reality on the ground.

Look who is talking!

An Editor, perhaps the only one, who suspended the publication of her newspaper in the aftermath of August 5th, 2019! Ostensibly, because there was no Internet service available and hence publishing the paper was not possible. May I remind the self-anointed conscience-keeper of Kashmiri journalism that prior to 1995, there was no Internet, and her father, who founded the paper, used to bring out the newspaper. And dare I say a much better one.

Look who is talking!

An Editor, perhaps the only one, who publishes a signed column in another news forum just  before a global Human Rights meeting with a view to help the government in deflecting the charges of media muzzling.

Looking who is talking!

An Editor, perhaps the only one, who has been hawking the inherited paper for sale for the last five years without being able to find a buyer and has not paid her Srinagar staff their salaries!

Yes, I am shooting the messenger, because the message, being dished sitting within the comforts of a near normal Jammu, and spitting at journalist working out of the “war zone” of Kashmir valley is not only factually incorrect but also morally dishonest and intellectually subversive.

Citing the example of the Ashura processions, Ms Bhasin is trying to prove that Kashmiri newspapers are hesitant to report what is happening on the ground even on human rights matters, let alone larger political positions. She believes that they are not reporting reality as it happens. In the process, she is simply trying to demonize Kashmir media, for reasons best known to her. Why she chose a religious event as an example and not some political report reveals her own caution in treading!

Nevertheless, to set the record straight, the Ashura episode was reported by entire local media. The Kashmiri media didn’t sensationalize the issue, but it did report on the ground situation verbatim. May be not the way she would have wanted us to report, but it was there.

To learn how it ought to have been reported I checked the Kahmir Times  reportage on the incident. Surprise, surprise! Kashmir Times, the newspaper which she owns, edits and runs, didn’t even file its own copy. Instead the Kashmir Times reported the incident “quoting” Outlook magazine. And yet she takes a high moral ground. Look inwards Ms Bhasin — instead of trying to castigate those who reported the same firsthand.

Do you even understand the trials, tribulations and trauma faced by Kashmiri editors?

None of the Kashmiri editors, who are in the line of her fire, suspended their publications. They couldn’t afford to. Their publications are the record-keepers of Kashmir’s history and thus how could they think of missing reporting the new history, how ugly or beautiful it would have been! They had no luxury of skipping a few dishes!

Fact of the matter is that what Ms Bhasin has tried to convey through her write-up is nothing new to Kashmiri editors. They have been facing this kind of lousy campaign even before August, 05, 2019.

Digging a bit into the history, there has been a concerted campaign against Kashmir media by lots of quarters for decades. The campaign was sharpened post-1993, when first English language daily, ‘Greater Kashmir’, was published from Srinagar.

Till then, though we in Kashmir had a vibrant media, it was only vernacular one (Urdu) and post-1990, those ruling Jammu and Kashmir – from Governors to bureaucrats to security and intelligence forces – couldn’t read the language. Publication of the first English daily from Srinagar brought “Kashmir story” to the attention of non-Urdu knowing readers within and outside Kashmir.

Since then media in Kashmir has been reporting Kashmir braving risks from all sides. Nearly 30 Kashmiri journalists, including two editors, have been killed. Reporters, photographers have been thrashed while covering incidents. Journalists, including editors, have been abducted. Even today, scores of newspaper editors have FIRs registered against them in different police stations.

Despite all this, Kashmiri journalists, particularly the editors, never surrendered, are not surrendering and will not surrender. During Mehbooba Mufti’s regime, the government imposed ban on Kashmir Reader. Local editors fought the battle collectively.

The editors of Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader were summoned by NIA and questioned for days. Local editors stood with their colleagues solidly. Where was Ms Bhasin then?

That is what the Kashmir-based newspapers did. They knew that their publications are record-keepers of history and any break would break the recording of events. They, with whatever meager resources available, managed to bring out their newspapers.

They had to. They had to record the history, sordid or pleasant. They couldn’t afford to deny their coming generations the vehicle to know what happened on August 05, 2019 and in the aftermath.

Despite a blanket ban on all modes of communication, the Kashmir newspapers used whatever resources were available to them to collect whatever bits of information they could to share with their readers. Like Ms Bhasin, Kashmir-based newspapers too had an option of taking the much safer route – to suspend publication – but they decided to hold the fort. They owed it to their readers and they did it.

Coming to the post-August 05 reporting by the local newspapers – a simple question to the author – did Kashmir-based newspapers shy away from writing about restrictions imposed after August 05, 2019? Didn’t these newspapers report protests wherever these took place; didn’t these newspapers report random arrests?

If Ms Bhasin has any doubts, I will be more than happy to share with her not just news reports but also a series of editorials published in my newspaper, Kashmir Images, about detention of political leaders, ban on internet and scuttling of political process.

Not only Kashmir Images, all the local newspapers reported about what was happening on the ground despite very limited access to the information in absence of internet.

The writer in her column says: “The handful of newspapers being printed from Srinagar maintained silent – they were cautious enough to even avoid reporting on the contested claims of both sides and instead cherry-picked ‘safer’ things to talk about….”

Again the author is making a sweeping statement about Kashmir based newspapers. Here she talks about post August 05, 2019 protests in Soura area in the outskirts of Srinagar.

It may be recalled that it was the time when Kashmir was under stringent restrictions and there was no communication at all as landline phones too were not working. Still the local newspapers tried to get whatever details they could and published the same. Kashmir Images even managed to get a photograph of protestors and published it on the front page. But as the author has decided to portray herself and her publication ‘the only champions of Kashmir’, she would continue to talk about ‘silence of Kashmir media.’

The author quotes L.K. Advani’s famous retort to journalists after the dark days of Emergency, “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled” and suggests that “it rings true in the Valley today”.

Ms Bhasin was not even asked to bend. She heard that her neighbors were told to and she just ran away. To each his/her own.

Tail piece:

This article was sent for publication to The Wire since the original article, a highly personalised and motivated one, was published by them. For reasons best known to the editors of the news portal, it was not published. Nor was the author informed, as is the normal courtesy, that the piece would not be published. This is a good example of how the liberal and ethical national journalism functions vis-à-vis Kashmir.

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