Journalist Abdul Mohamin wakes up every day with a new idea for a story. But the senior correspondent with the now-banned English daily Kashmir Reader has nowhere to write and get them published.
“I was walking through Downtown Srinagar the other day and realised so many stories are waiting to be written. But I can’t write them for my paper,” laments Mohamin.
His paper was banned by the state government on October 2 for “inciting violence” in the backdrop of spiraling violence across Kashmir following the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani in July.
In an order dated September 30, the Srinagar district magistrate said the contents of the newspaper “tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility” but did not detail which specific report or article did so. Since then, the government has not officially said anything regarding revoking the ban.
Earlier this month, the debate around banning media outlets revived after the Centre ordered NDTV India off the air for a day for allegedly broadcasting “sensitive details” during its coverage of the January Pathankot air base attack.
But the order was put on hold after protests by mediapersons and civil society.
But the continuing ban on the Kashmir Reader continues and observers have questioned the government’s “double standards”.
Kashmir Reader’s journalists meet in the deserted office almost every day and over cups of chai discuss stories that they can’t file and ask each other if there’s any update on the ban.
They participate in regular protests against the ban organised by the media fraternity at Srinagar’s press enclave.
The website of the paper has not been updated since October 2 and the lead story on it remains: “Govt bans publication of Kashmir Reader, says ‘its publication can incite violence and disturb peace’” with a cover picture of the government order.
“There is an uncertainty regarding the ban getting revoked and that’s telling upon the patience of our journalists. Some suspect that continuing the ban might be a ploy by the government to break the organisation’s backbone by making the livelihoods of employees difficult,” said Hilal Mir, editor of Kashmir Reader.
Apart from not being able to report or write, the 30-odd core employees of the newspaper and scores of others involved in peripheral activities – such as hawkers, printing presses and drivers – face immense uncertainty over the revoking of the ban and more importantly, a financial constraint.
The October salary hasn’t been released yet – a major burden for those with families to support, employees say.
“When a reporter’s newspaper is not being published, then why will his sources talk to him? What’s the use? The reporter then might lose his sources and won’t be updated regarding what’s going on,” Mohamin adds.
Many of the journalists are freelancing as of now but they face a conundrum: If the ban continues, they will have search for a new job but it might be difficult to land one because prospective employers may not want to hire a journalist working for a banned publication.
For photographers working with the paper, the ban has meant they have nowhere to publish the day’s news photos, which lose value the next day.
“Because the newspaper is banned, my everyday pictures are not reaching people. And mobile internet is also banned for over four months now, so most people can’t check out my photos on social media either,” said Faisal Khan, a photojournalist with Kashmir Reader.
Kashmir Reader, with a circulation of over 5,000, was minimally dependent on ads from the government, unlike most newspapers, but was backed by a business house.
“The ban hurts. It was a brand of independent journalism at Kashmir Reader. The reporter got his freedom and chased facts without any bias,” says Moazum Mohammad, a senior journalist with the paper.
The ban has been harshly criticised by the Valley’s media bodies, civil society and separatists, while international bodies like the Amnesty International, Pen International and Committee to Protect Journalists have called for revoking the ban.
“I don’t think Kashmir Reader at any point of time incited violence. To ‘incite’ means more than just a report or investigative piece. It means ‘to provoke’. The paper did not report the happenings differently to incite violence; it may have done further investigations into the events,” said justice Hasnain Masoodi, former judge of the state high court and senior advocate at the Supreme Court.
Masoodi added: “It should be noted that the government order is open-ended. You may ban a book or some issues of a newspaper for the content it carried, but you cannot come up with an order to ban a newspaper saying that it may publish some incitement in the future.”
From July 8, when protests began in the Valley till the day the paper was banned, reporters and editors of the Kashmir Reader worked without a break. The newspaper was one of the first to report from the strife-torn south Kashmir region, the epicentre of the ongoing unrest.
But now they have ample time on their hands. Hilal is spending his time reading Kashmiri novels, while Moazum is freelancing and binge watching the American television series House of Cards.