Media Gag in Kashmir: A Draconian Measure That Reflects Govt Jitteriness

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At around 2 AM, 16th July, 2016, the police raided the printing facilitiy of Kashmir Observer and seized all copies of the newspaper. The raid and seizure of newspaper was not restricted to Kashmir Observer; almost all other newspapers coming out of Srinagar were subject to these raids. All this amounts to a press gag. The ostensible aim and rationale of the press gag by Mehbooba Mufti’s Government along with an intense curfew and other draconian measures appears to choke the flow of news and information to prevent mobilization of people. This rationale, if true, is as short sighted and silly as can be. Choking the flow of news means a free rein for rumours and the rumour mill which can further feed violence. While the latest media gag is a clear cut infringement on the freedom of press, the Government does not smell of roses when it comes to media in the state. Even under non exceptional and non extraordinary circumstances, Government has used techniques to muzzle the free press and attempt to make it toe the line. One such technique is reducing the ad share of newspapers and delaying their payments.

Anyhow, returning to the latest saga of the press gag, the very attempt suggests that the Government is jittery and will take recourse to any measure to choke the ongoing protests. As a general rule, protests of the nature that have percolated across the length and breadth of Kashmir have a shelf life. That is, they will run their course and then fizzle away. The price paid will be the unfortunate loss of young lives and lives destroyed. But the question is: once the protests lose their momentum and a patina of calm restored in Kashmir, will that represent a victory for the Government? No. Not at all. Not even a pyrrhic victory given the wounds that have been inflicted on the collective unconscious and conscious of Kashmir and Kashmiris and its body politic. Even when “normalcy” will be restored to Kashmir, the undercurrents of discontent and anger will simmer and not go away. In all likelihood, given another catalyst in the nature of Burhan Wani’s killing or something similar, Kashmir will implode again. If powers that be assume that all this is containable and manageable, then they are living in a fool’s paradise and drunk with power and the attendant hubris it gives rise to.

Among other things, what the press gag does is validate for Kashmiris that for them rights are and will perhaps always be illusory and that Kashmir will always merely be managed even it means abrogating and denying them fundamental rights. This in the final analysis constitutes a tragedy.

The Government’s draconian measures that include the press gag then  are not even in the nature of palliatives. They are what they are: an ad hoc reflex to deal with a condition that , in reality, warrants a reality check on Kashmir and a soul searching to deal with  the root causes of the conflict in and over Kashmir.

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