When the press came to a halt: Life in Kashmir without newspapers

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Jul 19, 2016 11:10 IST
A deserted office of Rising Kashmir, a leading English daily of the Valley, on Monday. (Waseem Andrabi/ HT Photo)

The ban is officially over but people in Kashmir Valley got no newspapers for the fourth day on Tuesday. The government’s decision to lift the gag order came too late on Monday for papers to be published.

Whatever the reason, the morning cup of nun-chai (salted tea) doesn’t taste the same. Sixty-year-old Syed Ghulam Nabi has been forced to settle for rumours in the absence of his daily news fix.

Monday was the third and what was to be the final day of the government-imposed ban and Srinagar residents were still coming to terms with unconfirmed reports of a ruling Peoples Democratic Party MLA, Mohammad Khalil Band, being hurt in an attack by a stone-pelting mob.

The government said the reports were just rumours and insisted the legislator was injured in a road accident.

Read | Still no newspaper in Kashmir, death toll 44 as teen dies of bullet injuries

“When you have banned newspapers and internet, you have taken away the common man’s only sources of verified information. As a result, what spreads is rumours,” said Sheikh Mushtaq, a senior journalist.

With no newspapers coming out, many local journalists were forced to sit at home as tensions simmered outside.

Printing plates and copies of several local newspapers in the Valley were seized after their offices and printing presses were raided by security forces on Friday and early Saturday.

On Saturday, the state government announced a ban on newspapers such as English daily Greater Kashmir and Urdu dailies Srinagar Times and Aftaab for three days “to ensure peace”.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s political adviser Amitabh Mattoo said on Monday the ban didn’t have the leader’s approval and decision was taken locally.

Mohammad Ishaq, an employee of the Daily Kashmir Images, has his lunch in front of printing machines on the outskirts of Srinagar. (AP)

Local or high-level, the decision did send the rumour mill in overdrive. On Sunday, reports emerged that a youth was killed in Bandipora in street protests triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujhahideen commander Burhan Wani.

The report turned out to be baseless. But not long after it died down, another rumour took hold of the city’s alleys: A youngster being killed in the Rainawari area of the city. This, too, turned out to be false. In between, there was also talk of a police constable’s death in clashes in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

Read | It’s yesterday again: Kashmir’s old wounds need political healing

In the aftermath of Wani’s death and the storm of protests it sparked, mobile internet in the Valley remains suspended. Nabi’s cellphone has also been down for 11 days with mobile connectivity at best patchy.

“The ban on press – in addition to the ban on internet – comes as a part of the government’s overall step to ensure normalcy at any cost,” pointed out Shuja Ahmad, Nabi’s bank-employee son.

Kashmir’s media houses fought the printing ban by aggressively updating their web portals with breaking news.

The police constable, rumoured to be dead in Kulgam, was not dead but critical, an official statement clarified.

Print journalists warned the crackdown would be counter-productive. “This gag on media in Kashmir will have counter-productive effects and the situation will worsen because of it,” said Daanish Bin Nabi, an editor with the English daily, Rising Kashmir. “Kashmir already has a bad reputation for rumours and this time they are spreading like wildfire. Such rumours can easily provoke people and more clashes can happen.”

With the ban lifted and editors expected to take a decision on printing later on Tuesday, people in the Valley can look forward to enjoying their morning cup of nun-chai with their daily dose of news.

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