(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional; This is not medical advice or scientific fact; the following article is simply my personal findings on studying Covid-19 via the internet. The following article is not intended for anything more than a personal opinion piece.)
Attack on Independent Journalism in India
Just about a fortnight before World Press Freedom Day, the Indian government booked two Kashmiri journalists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
As per the law, if proven guilty, they can be branded as terrorist, the government can sell their property, and they can be jailed up to seven years.
one of the two booked journalists, is a twenty-six-year-old photojournalist whose work has been published in newspapers such as The Caravan Magazine, The Washington Post, and Al Jazeera amongst others.
Here are links to some of her pictures of Kashmir on Instagram
the other author/journalist, booked under UAPA, is a political analyst, broadcaster, and commentator other than being an independent journalist who has been featured on BBC World, Dawm.com, Telegraph U.K. and CNN IBN.
He has penned the book, “Kashmir: Rage and Reason.”
Also, here are links to some of his articles:
Mainstream media has entered a dangerous state- the journalists in Kashmir are only trying to do their jobs- yet due to their reporting of Kashmir, its people, and their eternal nightmare, this has only brought them under the scanner of the government more.
The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has been ongoing for decades, with no solution in sight. Meanwhile, Kashmir and its people have witnessed violence, bloodshed, and trauma for generations while innocently caught in the crossfire.
The entire world is grappling with the perils of lockdown for just a couple of months now. Yet the people of Kashmir have been living under government-imposed lockdown since the 5th August last year when the government revoked Article 370 that gave Kashmir its special status.
The tragic history of the state of Kashmir today is multilayered, complex, and a story that cannot be easily told- especially by those who are not Kashmiris.
Kashmir and its people have been portrayed as anti-nationalists by the mainstream media for decades; the unfortunate truth is that exposed to inhumane acts, the Kashmir people are understandably angry- and refuse to stay quiet anymore out of self-survival. To those outside the state- or unexposed to this kind of brutality- it is easy to spin anyone as ‘violent.’
Journalists who have never stepped foot in the state of Kashmir or interacted with its people, paint them as hostile criminals with direct or indirect delegations of the government.
Free and fair journalism from within the state of Kashmir has decreased remarkably long before the Coronavirus Pandemic- and its tighter ‘regulations’; the government has created enormous barriers for the Kashmiris to overcome, internet restriction among them.
“Whoever Controls The Media- Controls The Mind.”
The voice of local journalists and media has been silenced, given the circumstances. The information that comes out of the valley is primarily through journalists reporting for news agencies from outside the erstwhile state of Kashmir or abroad.
The FIRs lodged against these journalists is an attempt to reprimand and punish the remaining few voices of truth in the valley of Kashmir, taking advantage of the restrictions imposed given the corona pandemic.
These are not the first set of Kashmiri journalists bearing the brunt of standing up for their people and standing by principles of free journalism.
Unknown attackers have even killed the journalists of Kashmir for their journalistic reporting. The murder of Shujaat Bukhaari, the editor of the newspaper “Rising Kashmir” by unidentified gunmen outside his office in June 2018, has already begun to fade from people’s memories.
In his recent article, Geelani calls out the FIRs as “vindictive calibrated to wreak vengeance” and an attack on journalism itself.
He further states,
“Memory will win. Words are a writer’s weapons. All I have is words. Let me assure one, and all that journalism and words will stay and survive. Censorship won’t. All my life, I have advocated non-violence, condemned violence in all forms and manifestations, stood for the rights of the people, and free speech.”
After being booked, Zahra commented,
“I am among the very few female photojournalists in Kashmir and have been working really hard to learn and to create my space for the past four years. They (police) want to silence me. They want to suppress me as I bring out the repressed voices and stories of Kashmir.”
As mentioned before, these two aren’t the only journalists the authorities are trying to silence and police. Those in power are controlling the media and via them, the minds of the public.
Anyone who deviates meets the fate of Zahra and Geelani and, in some cases, even worse. Geelani confesses how some of his senior colleagues have also been harassed, being called into questioning by the police, humiliated, and pressured for hours to reveal their sources.
These stories, including many others, are testimony to a serious threat and danger to free speech and free media in India.
India and Journalism
Journalism, particularly newspapers, were the backbone of India’s struggle of Independence from the British.
It took decades to build a sense of nationalism and nationalistic identity among the masses via print media, which would later be built into a revolution for freedom.
That is how powerful media could be even a century ago, even in a country where more than half the population was illiterate, and television news or the internet did not even exist.
Today, media and journalism has evolved beyond means of spreading information into an authority that is supposed to be a watchdog of government for the people. It has become a mammoth-like entity with its tentacles capable of reaching every nook and corner of this world.
This is why media is often informally referred to as the fourth pillar of a democracy. It is supposed to be an authority that questions those in power, holding them responsible for every action and every decision.
Media and journalism are required to keep the government in check, making sure it is accountable and transparent without bias, selectivity or distortion.
India’s struggle for freedom always advocated for freedom of the press; the latter was an integral part of the former. Free and fair media makes space for the existence of democracy.
However, is India even a real democracy anymore? When the very constitution is being flouted with, free speech is shunned and punished, could such a nation be called a democratic society anymore?
If the media doesn’t perform their job of reporting news in a free and fair manner, questioning, and critiquing those in power, the democratic ideals of a country would suffer, and such is the case of India.
Journalism and governing authorities are supposed to be like oil and water, which never mixed even if mixed in the same pot. On the contrary, it has become one with the government like salt and water.
Instead of throwing light on burning issues such as unemployment, poverty, and economic slowdown, media has just become the government’s PR agency, whitewashing their criminal lies and redirecting the attention of the viewers from the truth.
Journalism in India has become as morally corrupt as its government. To make matters worse, the quality of anchoring, news reporting, and debates has dramatically deteriorated.
News channels debates are now reduced to shouting matches, prime time reporting is all about propagandist nuisance, and news anchors perform cheap antics to hold their viewers captive.
Without free and fair media, democracy can soon descend into being a sham democracy. We are in dire need of saving, and supporting journalists like Zahra and Geelani as independent and free journalists like them are glimmers of hope in the darkness.
The Kashmir Question
The recent FIRs against the abovementioned Kashmiri journalists is an example of how the people of the state are treated.
After years of crackdowns, encounters, and lockdowns and changing regimes, no one and nothing has been able to resolve the Kashmir question.
It is probably because no one has asked Kashmir and the Kashmiris what they want.
Their call and demand for ‘azaadi’ (freedom) may or may not be in the best interest for everyone but pointing guns and bullets in the faces of people and holding them captive in their homes in the name of law and order is not going to lead to a change of hearts either.
The world would be a better place if we would only listen and not just listen for the sake of listening. If the people of Kashmir were heard and made to feel like they were actually heard, things might have been a whole lot different.