“Indian newspapers” are read and followed in large numbers all over Kashmir, especially Srinagar. But that habit has taken a hit, with the curfew affecting readers and those in the newspaper business alike.
Hilal Khan, a newspaper agent says he would “earn Rs 9,000-10,000 a month. Now that’s a big hole. My phone rings all day. Customers keep asking us to hazard a guess when they are likely to get the paper next”.
National dailies are delivered to the Valley through air or land routes. “But the road to the airport is under curfew. And suppose I were to source the newspapers where would I distribute them? Few people are out on the streets so my efforts would go down the drain,” says Parvez Rather, a newspaper agent.
Kashmiris, however, “don’t like reading papers that come through land – ie, Jammu and Chandigarh,” says Khan. They want national perspective. “They follow the drift of news and opinion that come from Delhi and for that you have to access the airport.”
Young Kashmiris appearing for civil services exam are a sizeable client base. “A young lady recently threw a tantrum when I offered her a national paper (The Hindu), saying it was for Rs 13. She said, ‘Have I come to buy a car or a newspaper?’ The fact is it cost Rs 13 even before the curfew but now tempers run high because of the tension.”
The circulation of local newspapers has gone up. “The present anti-India sentiment is also pushing up their sales but the price also helps,” says Saadiq (name changed), a distributor. “Greater Kashmir costs Rs 5, Kashmir Reader and Rising Kashmir both cost Rs 3.”
Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed, an engineer, says he follows mainstream media like “HT and Indian Express and magazines like Outlook. It’s an old habit. They are not completely biased,” he says. “But what neither national or local media is doing is focusing on stories of daily life hit by the curfew. The stories of death and injuries are covered by all. But there are people who are neither dead or injured, they are suffering too.”
What would he like to read? “No one is writing about the shortage of baby food, how there is a shortage of life-saving drugs, how businesses like hotels are reeling under debs,” is his answer.