Gagging Voices From Kashmir

Both force and censorship have been used to quell voices but Kashmiris have again made it loud and clear, “Ki Hum Kya Chahte….”, says Bilal Kuchay.

Kashmir is on boil, again. Protests, curfew, stone pelting, killings, pellet guns are back. After 18 days, a few-hour relaxation in curfew was given in some parts of the Srinagar city on July 26 but was re-imposed after people hit the streets and protested against the Indian state. For weeks, no relaxation in curfew was given in most of the parts of Kashmir Valley. Mobile phone and Internet services continue to remain suspended in the region since July 09. Prepaid simcards have been barred from outgoing call services.

The state administration had to use force to quell the protests, which erupted in the entire Kashmir valley following the killing of popular militant commander, Burhan Muzafar Wani.

Hundreds and thousands of people marched towards Tral, the home-town of Wani on July 8 and 9 to attend his funeral prayers. Though the Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP government had imposed curfew in advance, still an estimated 30, 0000 people participated in Wani’s funeral.

The Mehbooba Mufti government had struggled and continues to do so to bring the situation to “normal” in the Valley.

From live ammunition and pellet guns to media gag, her government and the security establishment had tried everything to calm-down things.

On July 04, Arshed Nisar, a 28-year-old Kashmiri working in Delhi left for home to celebrate Eid with his family in the south Kashmir town of Tral. He was supposed to resume duty on July 15 but he couldn’t make it to Delhi before July 28, following the tense situation in Kashmir.

On reaching Delhi, worried about his job, Nisar first opened the laptop to check his emails. “I was not able to communicate with anyone in my office as the government has suspended both Internet and mobile phone services in Kashmir. Even landlines were not working in our town,” he said.

While scrolling down in his Gmail account, his eyes caught the attention of an email sent to him by the Human Resource (HR) department on July 21, titled- “Not Reporting To Work”.

“Hi Arshed,

This has been reported that you were on approved leave from July 4th till July 14th. However you have not reported and there has been no communication from your end since July 8th. We are concerned and would like to understand when you would join back. As per HR policy, any absence beyond 3 days, is considered to be absconding,” the email reads.

Nisar is not the only Kashmiri, who went to celebrate Eid to Kashmir with his family and was caught in the middle of the situation, following the killing of Burhan Wani. But there are hundreds of such people living in Delhi or Kashmir, who for days and weeks couldn’t contact their family members or office authorities following the suspension of Internet and mobile services in Kashmir.

On July 25,Varmul Post, a weekly newspaper published from north Kashmir’s Baramula district, shared a message on its Facebook page, that read: “The Varmul Post received a message from Damam, Saudi Arabia that a person named Shuaib Khursheed Shah hailing from Baramulla (family currently residing in Jawahar Nagar) has passed away in an accident there. Shoaib was working in Bin Quraya, Damam. The burial is likely to take place locally tomorrow.” The post continues: “Due to the communication blockade in Kashmir, his friends are unable to contact his family. Please share this so we may reach his family.”

On July 08, three militants including Burhan Muzaffar Wani were killed in an encounter with Jammu and Kashmir Police and Army in Kokernag area of south Kashmir. Since then, authorities have imposed curfew in the entire valley, data Internet and mobile phone services (except the government owned service provider, BSNL) remained suspended. “I was not able to contact my family members for more than two weeks,” said Kousar Ahmad, a Kashmiri working in Delhi. “It was very disturbing situation. On one hand, we see news of killings but on the other hand you can’t even call your family members to at least know, how they are?”

On July 18, Jalil Lone, a Kashmiri working in Bangladesh wrote on his Facebook that it has been six days since he has last spoken to his family back in Kashmir. “#‎KashmirSeige. It’s been sixth day, I haven’t spoken to my family. Internet and phones lines are snapped and valley is wailing under silence. 45 civilian killed, 2200 hundred injured, with 150 blind by pellet injuries. Kindly pray for us,” Jalil wrote.

After five more days, Jalil finally wrote, “Managed to talk to my family after 10 days somehow! They are all alive so far. Thank God! Thank you everyone for your prayers.”

 

However, things took a turn for the worse when the authorities swooped on printing presses and blocked newspaper publication for five days. Newspapers copies, printing plates were allegedly seized by police, even printing staff members were detained.

 

Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Srinagar-based Rising Kashmir whose printing press was raided around midnight on July 22 said that he was not surprised by the government’s decision to ban newspapers from going to print. “Authorities had forced us to suspend publication during the protests against Indian rule in 2008 and 2010 as well. When Afzal Guru, was hanged in 2013, copies of newspapers were seized from the press and the stands. I remember my newspaper ceased publication for four days. During the 2010 agitation, we were forced to stop publishing for 10 days,” Bukhari said.

Bukhari, however, said that he was surprised when the direction came from the government.

 

“Though there was no formal order but the government spokesperson verbally instructed the editors not to print newspapers for the three days,” he said adding “earlier there was no such orders or instructions from the government. Either newspapers would be stopped from print or copies will be seized after printing.”

 

In a statement, the newspaper editors quoted the state education minister and government spokesperson, Naeem Akhter, saying that the “ban was in view of apprehensions of serious trouble in Kashmir valley in the next three days aimed at subverting peace. Strict curfew will be imposed and movement of newspaper staff and distribution of newspapers will not be possible”.

Veteran Journalist and Editor of The Kashmir Monitor, Zafar Meraj said “it was totally absurd to ban the publication of newspapers in Kashmir.” Meraj said by doing so the Mehbooba Mufti led government has not achieved anything good but “if the government had any credibility that is also gone.”

When in 2010, Omar Abdullah led government did what the present dispensation has done, “Mehbooba Mufti was on the forefront in criticisng Omar Abdullah when newspapers were not allowed to go to print or were stopped from distribution”, Meraj said.

Amid this media gag and suspension of mobile phone and internet services, Facebook was also accused by people for censoring the content related to Kashmir.

 

Many academics and activists accuse Facebook of removing their posts or their profiles permanently for writing and sharing Kashmir related content citing “violation of community standards”.

 

Professor Huma Dar, a Kashmiri-origin academic at the University of California Berkeley, had told AFP that her profile was permanently disabled after she posted photos of BurhanWani and a video of his funeral attended by tens of thousands of mourners and was informed by Facebook that her account “will not reactivated for any reason.”

Rayees Rasool said that his account was blocked after he posted a picture, captioned from 1931 to 2016 (referring to the freedom struggle Kashmiris started against Dogra rule in 1931 that continues to the present day) and a video where Indian forces entered a hospital in south Kashmir frightening people. “My posts were widely shared by people and that became the reason why my account was blocked by Facebook,” he said.

An online petition was initiated by Professor Dibyesh Anand, Naila Smith, Rollie Mukherjee, and Mary Scully to demand that Facebook respect the US Bill of Rights and stop censoring posts, videos, photos and commentary about Kashmir. They urged the company to investigate the reasons behind such censorship and demanded Facebook to stop deleting posts and locking out activists exercising their right to free speech in telling the truth about what is happening.

At least 56 civilians have been killed, over 3500 people have been wounded during street tussles with police and CRPF in past one month. Hundreds of security personnel have also been injured in the protests, following the killing of Burhan Wani. Over 400 people with pellet injuries to the eyes have been admitted in different hospitals across the Kashmir valley.

The people’s participation in Wani’s funeral and the return of massive protests on the streets of Kashmir have once again questioned the “peace and normalcy”, mistakenly linked by many with the number of tourists visiting Kashmir and the voter turnout.

Both force and censorship have been used to quelling voices but Kashmiris have again made it loud and clear, “Ki Hum Kya Chahte….

 

Photo Credit: Sameer Mushtaq

Bilal Kuchay is a freelance journalist, who has been featured in Express Tribune, Himal Southasian and The Kashmir Monitor. He tweets as @BilalKuchayj

Be first to comment