Newspapers were back on the stands across Kashmir on Thursday with prominent publications carrying front-page articles against the five-day media gag that triggered widespread condemnation in the Valley.
Most people said getting back their daily news fix was a physiological relief – because the media clampdown had started to fuel rumours – but newspapers made their displeasure with the gag public.
The Valley’s largest circulating English daily -- Greater Kashmir -- protested with a banner editorial on page one. The headline --red on black -- said “No gag is civilized”.
The newspaper said Friday police raids on its printing press “wasn’t only about gagging press in a blatant show of state’s power and might … it was about brazen disregard to the Fourth Estate”.
“It was unprecedented. It was outrageous.”
The newspaper whose three employees were detained said the government action was “about muzzling the voice of the voiceless. It was about strangulating the truth that newspapers, as a matter of professional obligation, have been telling its people especially in times of mass killings and countless injuries’’.
“The way this raid came, it became clearer that the state lacked a democratic way to approach things—the same state which, instead of encouraging truthful reporting from ground, paved way for rumour-mongering with the imposition of complete information blackout’’.
The media gag had come after days of violence in the Valley where tens of thousands of people clashed with security forces, leaving more than 40 dead and nearly 2,000 injured.
The unrest was triggered by the killing of top insurgent Burhan Wani, who commanded immense popularity in the Valley.
A leading Urdu daily, Srinagar Times, carried a cartoon and an editorial against the ban on its front page. “When newspaper offices are raided and employees arrested, where is the freedom of press?” the editorial wrote.
Other stories on newspapers were mostly about chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s assurance to the press. The state government had appeared divided over the ban.
“Newspapers in Kashmir will resume publication from Thursday after chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed regret over the ban and assured media that complaints of high-handedness against the press will be looked into’’, wrote English daily Rising Kashmir.
The paper carried an opinion piece “Simmering Kashmir’’ by its editor-in-chief Shujaat Bhukari on its edit page; it also reproduced an article written by IAS officer Shah Faesal on the page.
Kashmir Reader, another daily which faced the gag and had stories banned even on its website, reproduced an article written by editor Hilal Mir for a national daily a few days ago. “The gag order apparently an authoritarian act, is actually a sign of powerlessness of Kashmir’s pro India politicians’’.
“The local media is the biggest check on the propogandist reportage of majority of Indian media outlets especially television, which cannot see the eruptions except through the prism of national interest,’’ Mir wrote.
As newspapers returned to the stands, uneasy calm prevailed on the 13th day of curfew in Kashmir even as protests planned at night poured in from many parts.
Young men staged demonstrations across Srinagar on late Wednesday and raised pro-freedom slogans in mosques. Many areas in the city observed complete blackout by switching off lights for nearly an hour in the evening.
The protests were in response to a separatist call to observe July 20 as “Black Day” against the recent civilian killings. Pakistan had also observed July 20 as “Black Day” to express solidarity with Kashmiris.
Separatist have asked people to resume normal work in the valley after 2 pm on Thursday but local residents are likely to observe a complete shutdown from Friday.
Meanwhile, the state’s main opposition party, National Conference, won’t be participating in an all-party meet convened by Mehbooba on July 21.
The government has asked employees to resume services in many districts in the Valley-including Srinagar. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s media adviser Suhail Bhukari said schools will be opened in at least four districts in Kashmir.