Shahid Tantray

The front door of the Kashmir Press Club, which was locked and sealed on 17 January. During its short four-year tenure, the club was a rare island of calm for journalists to work in—particularly those writing for foreign publications.

AT 1.45 PM, on 15 January, an armoured cavalcade rolled onto the premises of the Kashmir Press Club—Kashmir’s largest body representing journalists—in Polo View, abutting Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. There had been heightened police presence at the club since the day before, with roving patrols across the road outside. That afternoon, a police officer had told reporters, “We will leave once sahab comes and takes charge.” Surrounded by paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel, Saleem Pandit, an assistant editor with the Times of India, got out of the Ambassador car at the head of the cavalcade and quickly went up to a conference room on the first floor.

Eleven other journalists, many of whom were known to be close to the current unelected administration of Jammu and Kashmir, entered the conference room and sealed the doors shut. Outside the door stood three police personnel armed with assault rifles, glowering at the worried staff and members of the club. Members of the police’s Crime Investigation Department—which has recently morphed into the administration’s most efficient tool against outspoken Kashmiri journalists—also roamed the corridors. An hour later, the 12 journalists walked out of the room and announced that they were “taking over.”

A crowd of club members had formed outside, despite a lockdown that had been announced to combat the most recent COVID-19 surge. Soon afterwards, our phones began pinging, almost in unison. We all received a WhatsApp message, a statement signed by Pandit and two others. “The elected body served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021,” it read. “As the previous committee delayed the elections for unknown reasons the club was headless, thereafter for around six months, putting media fraternity to unwanted trouble.”

The statement failed to mention that fresh elections had been announced only two days earlier and that they were only delayed because of the government’s refusal to re-register the club until 29 December 2021. “Now therefore on January 15, 2022 various journalists organizations across Kashmir valley unanimously decided to form an interim body of three members with M Saleem Pandit as president, Zulifkar Majid, bureau chief of Deccan Herald as General Secretary and Arshid Rasool Editor Daily Gadyal as treasurer of the club till elections are held in free and fair manner,” the document stated.

It was unclear which “various journalists organisations” these were, or where and how they had “unanimously agreed” to form an interim body. Pandit did not explain this in a page-long reply to questions that were emailed to him by The Caravan. Of the 13 journalists’ organisations registered with the Kashmir Press Club, ten held a meeting on 20 January condemning what they called the “forcible take-over … and subsequent shutting down of the Kashmir Press Club by the J&K administration.” The takeover was also condemned by the Press Club of India, the Editors Guild of India, the Committee to Protect Journalists and several other national and international press associations. Kashmir’s politicians were critical of the move too. The former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Today’s state sponsored coup at KPC would put the worst dictators to shame. State agencies here are too busy overthrowing elected bodies & firing govt employees instead of discharging their actual duties. Shame on those who aided & facilitated this coup against their own fraternity.”

The consensus among the journalists I spoke to was that the takeover had been masterminded by the Jammu and Kashmir administration. Despite Pandit’s denial that the takeover was backed by the administration, several factors point towards this. For a start, the police and paramilitary bandobast around Pandit and others who supported the takeover was suspicious. Pandit has also been known to be close to successive governments.

In November 2019, shortly after the abrogation of Article 370—which ended the limited autonomy earlier granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and was enforced with a brutal lockdown in the Kashmir Valley—Pandit had said that the editor of a prominent English daily had “close connections to terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba and has hired known ‘jihadi journalists’ to write for his newspaper.” This resembles the union government’s own frequent characterisation of journalists in Kashmir as anti-national and Islamist. Pandit’s membership of the Kashmir Press Club was promptly cancelled for “bringing disrepute” to the club, and he has not been a member since.

In January 2020, when the Indian government invited 16 foreign diplomats on a tour of the Kashmir Valley to try and show that the situation was normal, Pandit was among the select media workers they were allowed to meet. Following the takeover of the press club, without naming Pandit, the former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “There is no government this ‘journalist’ hasn’t sucked up to & no government he hasn’t lied on behalf of. I should know, I’ve seen both sides very closely. Now he’s benefited from a state sponsored coup.”

In his emailed response to questions from The Caravan, Pandit claimed that he had been the founder of the Press Club and that the elected body of the club “chose to confront the government at the behest of Pakistani elements present in the Club.” He claimed that previous club elections had not been free and fair, that it was a lie that new elections had been announced earlier and that the club’s leadership were working on the orders of Mufti and Abdullah. Pandit added, “Can anybody answer this question why Pakistani state and terrorists got rattled because of an internal affair between journalists of Kashmir? Why Pakistani foreign ministry had to meddle in the internal affairs of journalists in Kashmir?” He also alleged that footage of the large security presence at the club had been Photoshopped. This contradicted what I had seen when I was there.

The events of the days following the takeover also suggested the administration had a hand in the move. On 17 January, the government decided to shut down the club as well as seize the building it was housed in. The club’s Polo View premises had been granted to it upon its registration, in July 2018, by Mufti. She had acquiesced to journalists’ decades-old demands for an elected, government-registered body to represent their interests. A mere four years later, citing concerns over “the emergent situation which has arisen due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club,” the press club was deregistered and its offices shuttered. “Both the government and this ‘interim body’ got bad press,” Ishfaq Tantry, the first general secretary of the Kashmir Press Club, wrote in an article. “So the government came up with a new plan to shut down the Kashmir Press Club.”

After announcing his takeover, Saleem Pandit exits the Kashmir Press Club premises with an armed bodyguard and a handful of journalists in agreement with his takeover. The consensus among the journalists I spoke to was that the coup had been masterminded by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.

During its short four-year tenure, the Kashmir Press Club was a rare island of calm for journalists to work in. Unlike other press clubs in other parts of India, haunted by journalists primarily for their cheap meals and booze, the Kashmir Press Club provided free working space for dozens of independent journalists who had no offices of their own. Its import grew after the abrogation of Article 370, and the military-enforced lockdown and media blackout that followed it.

“When communications were suspended for months in 2019, the KPC became a centre for information-sharing, where journalists from different regions of Kashmir would share news which eventually would make it to the headlines,” Auqib Javeed, a Srinagar-based journalist, told me. “There was no other way we could have reported during that period.” But the club had never been fully free from government interference. A video journalist in his early twenties told me that, since its founding, CID officials regularly visited the club dressed in civilian clothing, to interact with journalists and attend events. “We would commonly joke that they were reporters working at Kothi Bagh Times,” he said, referring to the infamous Kothi Bagh police station, where some journalists have faced interrogation.

Despite the CID’s perennial presence, the author and journalist Gowhar Geelani said, the press club held a place of inexplicable importance to Kashmiri journalists stuck amid conflict and police violence—all the more so following the Narendra Modi government’s crackdown on civil society within Kashmir. “The coup in broad daylight is a major assault on media freedom and the right to assembly in Kashmir,” Gowhar said. “Besides, this institutional capture is aimed at containing the Kashmir story, controlling the narratives through pliant stenographers and pro-government scribes, and akin to rendering over three hundred working journalists homeless.”

The takeover and closure of the Kashmir Press Club is only the most overt attack against press freedom by the Jammu and Kashmir administration. Following the abrogation of Article 370, police in the region have begun a severe crackdown against journalists. They have filed criminal cases against at least twelve of them, including under repressive anti-terrorism laws. More than a hundred and eighty journalists have been called by the CID and the police to face questioning. Under duress from the government, news organisations have fired numerous reporters who continued to report critically on the ruling regime. Alarmingly, news organisations have also begun scrubbing their archives clean of previous reports that might anger the government. Over the course of my reporting, I spoke to more than twenty-five journalists and over a dozen police officials from the valley. They painted a bleak picture of the press now facing near-total censorship in a region often described as “the world’s most beautiful prison.”

THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of a leading Urdu daily, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that the evening of 1 September 2021 had seen a rush at his office. The team had been finalising the next morning’s edition when news arrived that Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the founder of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Kashmir’s most senior pro-freedom leader, had died. Arguments immediately broke out over whether to give the news space on the paper’s front page or in its inside pages. The passing of Kashmir’s most influential man should have been a shoo-in for the front page, but, especially since the administration’s grasp over the media had tightened, coverage of Geelani was bound to ruffle feathers among the army, in the office of Jammu and Kashmir’s lieutenant governor and in distant Delhi.

Minutes later, the editor-in-chief’s phone rang. Yatish Yadav, the lieutenant governor’s senior media advisor, was on the other end. A call from Yadav was never a good sign, nearly all of the senior editors I spoke to agreed. Yadav ordered the editor-in-chief to “not give much hype or coverage to Geelani’s death” in order to prevent disturbing the “law-and-order situation.” If the situation was disturbed due to the news coverage, the media advisor warned, “Aap ke liye problem hoga”—It will become a problem for you.

The editor-in-chief had to relay the order to his team. Most understood, though they were disgruntled. They presumed that other newspapers would have gotten similar calls. The editor-in-chief himself seemed sombre. “The news of Geelani’s death was a jolt for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told me. “and keeping in mind the prevailing situation in Kashmir, we couldn’t give as much coverage to his death as it deserved.”

Past midnight, when the journalists settled on the details of the report on Geelani’s death, they were not allowed to go home, as the administration had imposed strict restrictions across the city. The police conducted a hurried midnight burial for Geelani, which even his family was not allowed to participate in.

Despite the failure to put Geelani on the front page, the editor-in-chief told me, “I was sure that locals here will buy the newspapers in bulk. The printing process was done and the newspapers were ready to hit the stands on the following day.”

But there was more trouble at Rangrate, a suburb on the route from Srinagar to its military airport, where three presses that printed several dailies were located. The police and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force had laid barricades that blockaded the whole area. The driver of a vehicle carrying 25 different local newspapers was stopped by paramilitary personnel and told that no papers would be distributed that day.

 “We were waiting for the arrival of newspapers at Lambert Lane mandi, but only a few, like Rising Kashmir, reached,” one of Srinagar’s largest newspaper distributors told me. The distributor dealt out 43 different newspapers on a normal day, but “most of the newspapers were not published on that day—even those who had their own printing press stepped back from publishing the edition. No major newspapers that reached our mandi were carrying the news of Geelani’s death, except for Rising Kashmir, which had given it one column on the front page.”

On that day, the distributor said, they made sure to deliver a free copy of Rising Kashmir to those who had subscribed to other publications. “From 2016, I used to distribute newspapers personally to our agents and subscribers in far-flung areas of south Kashmir,” he said. “But this time, we were not allowed to step out from Srinagar city.”

Sajjad Haider, the editor-in-chief of Kashmir Observer, told me, “The news of Geelani’s death we carried was all about his career and the ideology. We tried to analyse his life and the perspectives that people here had of him, what they thought he stood for.” For Haider, not publishing the news was not an option. “It would have been dishonesty to not carry the news of his death and just dismiss it as a news item that somebody had died,” he said. “We had tried to carry the news with opinions from both sides. If he was not an extraordinary personality, then he would not have been buried in the middle of the dark night.”

Paramilitary personnel blockade a road on the night that Syed Ali Shah Geelani died. The police conducted a hurried midnight burial for Geelani, Kashmir’s most senior pro-freedom leader, and newspapers were pressured not to report on his death.

Kashmir Observer was also printed at Rangrate, and no copies of it were distributed the next day. “We came to know that the police had come to the press but we were not certain that they will stop the distribution of newspapers,” Haider said. “We only came to know when distribution did not happen. By that time, we could not do anything, it was late. There were no formal orders to stop the distribution. They could have stopped us from printing to save our money. We have to pay for the copies which we have printed.”

Haider pointed to the police’s propensity for double-speak whenever they interfered with the workings of the press. “When police took out the body of Geelani, they said they were ‘facilitating the burial,’” he said. “Likewise, they said there were restrictions and that is why they were patrolling the press in Rangrate.” He added, “They said this was a routine patrol and they did not call it a raid. They said, ‘It is up to the press owner whether to allow them or stop them.’” In heavily militarised Kashmir, the fact that this was a threat was evident.

Haider said they tried to seek answers from the authorities and police about why they had not been allowed to distribute the newspaper, but got none. When I asked him if he was able to raise the issue with any journalistic bodies, he threw up his hands. “The situation in Kashmir is helpless, we couldn’t raise the issue with anybody,” he said. “Yahan tu nafsa nafsi ka aalam hei jinab. Jab aapke waqt ke hukumran aur turum khan khamosh baithe hai to sahafi ki kya haisiyat hai”—Everyone is worried about himself or herself here. When the powerful and influential people of our times are silent, what can a poor journalist do?

After Geelani’s death, protests broke out in some parts of the old city. The police responded with their usual tactics, firing pellets and tear-gas shells. Photojournalists, as usual, covered the protests for their publications, but none of their photographs were published the next day. The editor-in-chief of the Urdu daily told me that Yadav, the media advisor, had ordered them not to carry photographs of an injured pellet victim. “You can mention that there was pellet injury or protests but you must not publish the photo,” he recalled being told. He added, “Because of fear and government reprisals, we have to censor the political statements of the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party”—the two largest political parties in Kashmir. “We carefully have to look and monitor that the statement is not going against the government. There is no question of carrying the statements of Hurriyat, which most of the time speak against Indian rule and their policies in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The censoring of news about the Hurriyat has continued past Geelani’s death. Bashir Manzar, the editor-in-chief of Kashmir Images, told me that his newspaper was not compromising on the standard of reporting or overlooking any major event in Kashmir. When I asked if he had covered the appointment of Masrat Aalam as the new chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, which was not covered by any major daily in the valley, he shrugged and said, “We did not kill the news but we might have missed it.” Most editors who were willing to speak to me on the record had to be equally diplomatic in their language.

“THE SITUATION IN KASHMIR is unprecedented and, in my career of over thirty years, I have never seen this sort of strange situation,” the editor-in-chief of the Urdu daily told me. “There is no accountability against the media gag being imposed by the regime and nobody out there is listening to the problems faced by the media.” He said that making decisions on what would go into print and what would not felt like walking a tightrope. “Balancing journalism in Kashmir was never easy, but now we are being forced to give front-page space to the lieutenant governor’s news or other development news.”

The editor-in-chief said that calls from the lieutenant governor’s office, the police and the CID had become exceedingly common. “The administration has directed us not to give any space to violence-related activities like protests and stone-pelting,” he explained. Half of Kashmir’s news died before it reached the newsroom.

The editor of a Srinagar-based English-language daily told me that he had received similar orders. “We have also been clearly ordered that no critical statement from the mainstream political parties like NC and PDP shall be carried by the newspaper,” he said. “We are told not to carry statements from political parties that are against the policies of LG Sinha, Article 370 or the Modi-led BJP government.” Unable to report on protests and police reprisals or even to quote the state’s political parties, newspapers have been forced to largely cover their front pages with inane news about development projects initiated by the lieutenant governor, Manoj Sinha.

Sinha has a habit of sending out press notes calling every activity of his “historic,” the editor told me, and had earned the nickname “Manna History.” (Kashmiris have a tendency to shorten first names to just the first syllable.) “In order to sustain, nowadays, we have to give prominent space to Manna History,” the editor continued. “Newspapers are in survival mode and their owners feel that the industry will survive only by giving coverage to him. And, at the same time, the administration feel that they will change the narrative here by crushing journalism in Kashmir.”

Sinha and his media advisor, Yatish Yadav, did not respond to a detailed questionnaire emailed to them.

Manzar told me Sinha’s self-promotion was not too different from that of previous government heads in Kashmir. “Earlier governments also used to be on the front page like Manoj Sinha happens to be nowadays,” he said. What is new, according to Manzar, is local news from Kashmir becoming entirely beyond the reach of his readership. “I would say that the first casualty of the August 5 decision”—when Kashmir lost its autonomy—“was the local media. Media is considered a bridge between the masses and those in power. But after snapping all the communication channels, the media in Kashmir was not able to report. For the first three months we could not make contact with our reporters. I was watching news on television and it felt absurd. I could get to know about happenings in faraway places like New York but I could not know what was happening in Sopore town, barely sixty kilometres away from my office”

Fierce protests broke out in Srinagar’s old city following Geelani’s death. The Jammu and Kashmir administration verbally ordered newspapers not to publish images of protesters wounded by pellet guns.

The near-total omertà around political leaders in the valley has also made them less likely to issue statements or give comments when anything of note occurs. Haider complained about the failure of Kashmir’s previous elected leadership in being outspoken. “Nobody is coming to the fore to speak on the issues, even the big political leaders are silent,” he said. “When you read our paper, it looks like only government activity is happening across the board, and the other side—like the mainstream parties and the separatists—are silent. We are trying to take those political leaders to the front, but they refuse to talk, which ultimately leads to keeping only the governor-led administration and machinery active.”

Haider told me that this was doing a major disservice to Kashmir’s citizens since a majority of Kashmir’s senior bureaucrats and police leadership were outsiders, unable to understand local concerns in the same way that the political parties could. “The local bureaucrats who were experienced enough and senior enough to understand the politics, feelings, problems and the issues of the locals were removed from their positions,” he said. “They should understand that the people here should take the Indian flag by their own will without compelling them to take it.”

His assessment is not far from the truth. The police, for instance, have been through a sweeping reshuffle following the abrogation of Article 370, which has pushed to the fore officers from outside the valley who barely speak the local language, let alone understand the political and social nuances of Kashmir. Several senior officers of Kashmiri origin who were known to lead counter-insurgency operations have been sidelined. In the revenue department, much the same arrangement is visible. Many of the senior officials at Sinha’s office are outsiders too.

WITH THE CHANGE IN GUARD, a more aggressive crackdown on reporters has begun. Police cases, illegal surveillance, raids on the homes of journalists and even custodial violence have become the normal state of things after the abrogation of Article 370. On the morning of 8 September 2020, the houses of four journalists were simultaneously raided by the police. Those targeted included Shah Abbas, an online editor with the Urdu daily Kashmir Uzma, and Showkat Motta, who has served as an editor and writer for several leading newspapers and magazines. Hilal Mir, a former editor of Kashmir Reader, and Azhar Qadri, who previously worked with PTI and The Tribune—both of them currently freelancers—were also detained, with the police seizing their phones and laptops. Among the materials taken away were also Qadri’s old employment contract and an internship certificate he had received for working at the Indian Express. One of the raided journalists told me that the phones that were seized still have not been returned.

Three days later, they were summoned to the Kothi Bagh police station and told they were being investigated in a case registered under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a draconian anti-terrorism law. “During investigation,” a press note circulated by the police following the raids said, “credible evidence was found which links the following persons with the mastermind who is behind the blog” This was a pro-freedom blog that was shut down in October 2021 following a letter from the Jammu and Kashmir Police to WordPress. The press note added that “Various Numbers of Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi have been found” on the phones of the four journalists, who routinely wrote for foreign publications. The note ended, “After collection of solid evidence they would be arrested in the case.” No evidence has yet been made public.

The use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists is alarmingly frequent in Kashmir. On 5 September 2017, Kamran Yousuf, a freelance photojournalist who published regularly in Greater Kashmir, was detained without charge by the National Investigative Agency—India’s apex counter-terrorism task-force. Yousuf was charged with sedition, criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage war against India. Aasif Sultan, a Kashmiri reporter arrested under the UAPA in 2018, has been in jail for more than a thousand days. On 5 January this year, Sajad Gul, a 23-year-old trainee reporter for The Kashmir Walla, was arrested under the Public Safety Act. Since 2016, the police have registered 49 cases against media persons, including 17 cases of criminal intimidation, 24 cases of extortion and eight cases under the UAPA.

The number of journalists who have been arrested, however, pales in comparison to the number who have been called to police stations by the CID and police to be grilled. “I have been called by the CID officials at least three times in the last one year,” Aakash Hassan, an independent journalist, told me. Hassan said he was asked about his sources of income, his family and if he was related to any militants. “They are invading your personal life and as a journalist you feel vulnerable,” he explained. “This is harassment and gives me a sense of insecurity. These things are taking a toll on my mental health and are hampering my work.”

Adnan Bhat, a freelance journalist, was working on an assignment in Delhi in August 2021 when he received a call from an unknown number. “The person identified himself as an officer of the CID in Kashmir,” Bhat said. “He told me they are collecting information on journalists working in Kashmir. Apart from questions like which publication I work with, my income, where I’m based and if I support any particular ideology, I was also asked personal details about my parents and sister.” Bhat told me that despite the officer being polite, it was an uneasy conversation.

The next morning, he got a call from the same officer. “This time the officer started off with giving me the description of my parents’ house and asked me to confirm if that is where I lived in Kashmir,” Bhat recalled. “He told me, ‘Your house has a rusted rooftop and it has two gates,’ and this unnerved me and I booked a flight to Kashmir on the same day. For Kashmiri journalists, calls from police are nothing out of the ordinary, but this wasn’t about just me anymore. I didn’t want my aged parents to face any kind of harassment, so I stayed at home for the next week, hoping that if anyone did actually come, I would be there to deal with it personally.”

Bhat continued, sounding exasperated, “As journalists, we are just doing our job. We are trying to inform the authorities if something is wrong on the ground. They should take note and try to resolve it. These things are pressure tactics. … The police can find out about my work on the internet, all my work is available there. But when a direct call is made to a journalist, that too from the CID, it’s done to intimidate and put pressure on us. It is to let us know that they are after us, that they are always watching us.”

Bhat said that if the purpose of the questioning was to scare him, it had succeeded to some extent. “I was working on a couple of stories but these things play on your mind,” he told me. “I have not filed those stories because I am not sure how they will be received. It’s not about our own personal security anymore, they have made it about our families now.”

On 19 April 2020, Peerzada Ashiq, a Srinagar-based journalist working with The Hindu, was summoned by the Cyber Police Station in Srinagar over a story he had filed about the families of a slain militant being allowed to identify and bury their loved ones following protests in Shopian. Ashiq was let go after three hours of questioning. However, that same evening, Ashiq told me he was asked to reach Anantnag police station, where a first-information report had been registered against the story under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code—which pertains to intent to publicise a rumour that would incite enmity. He was questioned at the Anantnag police station for two hours.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police said in a statement that details quoted by Ashiq in the story “were factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of public.” The statement added, “The news was published without seeking confirmation from the district authorities.” But Ashiq showed me SMS and WhatsApp messages that he had sent to the deputy commissioner, none of which had gotten a response.

A senior reporter who works with an international publication told me this was a problem that journalists were increasingly facing in the valley. “The authorities in Kashmir don’t want to talk to us and somehow they expect us to carry their version,” he said. “Journalists do their job diligently, but how do we get the response when they don’t respond? The reason they don’t talk is because they will then have the impunity to harass us. They are trying their best to delegitimise us.”

Others have been cross-questioned under far more menacing circumstances. Auqib Javeed, the Srinagar-based reporter, was summoned by an NIA special court on 17 November 2021. He was forced on the stand to depose against Asiya Andrabi—the founder of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or Daughters of the Nation, an all-women Kashmiri outfit. Javeed had previously met Andrabi only once, to conduct a short interview for Kashmir Ink—something he did with any number of political leaders in the valley. Javeed told me that the NIA has since summoned him twice more, without a lawyer, with the presumption that he would be “likely to give material evidence for the prosecution.” Vijayanta Arya, the public-relations officer of the NIA, did not respond to emailed questions.

When interrogations and threats do not silence a journalist, particularly one writing for a foreign publication, the government has often resorted to crippling their ability to travel. On 1 August 2019, Gowhar Geelani, a contributor to the German news organisation Deutsche Welle, was waiting at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi to catch a flight to DW’s headquarters in Bonn. Shortly before his flight was to take off, he was told he would not be allowed to board. The immigration authorities at the airport did not give him any specific reason why. The Wire later reported that he was stopped based on orders from the Intelligence Bureau.

Gowhar faced continued persecution over the following years. On 21 April 2021, the Cyber Police Station booked Gowhar for allegedly “indulging in unlawful activities” on social media—activities, it said, that are “prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and security of India.” A police spokesperson claimed that Gowhar had been “glorifying terrorism in Kashmir Valley.” As has become routine, no evidence was made public to back this accusation. Gowhar was charged under the UAPA, which had recently been amended so that it could be used to proscribe not only organisations that the government deemed unlawful, but individuals too. Gowhar was the third journalist booked by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in a span of 24 hours.

A year later, Zahid Rafiq faced a similar situation. Rafiq had left his journalism career in 2018 and was going to join a fellowship at Cornell University in the United States. On 19 August 2021, immigration authorities at Indira Gandhi International Airport detained him and handed him over to the Jammu and Kashmir Police. He was flown to Kashmir the next day and questioned by the police’s Counter Intelligence Kashmir wing at a camp in the vicinity of Srinagar’s Humhama. A sympathetic police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that Rafiq was asked to sign a bond declaring that he would not write anything critical of the state. Rafiq, the officer said, had refused.

Army officials have also been known to question critical journalists. In November 2021, Quratulain Rehbar, a Srinagar-based freelancer, reported on the transfer of farmers’ lands in Pulwama to the Central Reserve Police Force for the construction of a new camp. Soon, the army started calling Rehbar and her family, asking for her to come to the army camp in Pulwama. Rehbar refused to go as the army had no constitutional right to call somebody in for questioning. In a subsequent article, she described the stress caused to her family and the deterioration of her mental health following the episode.

Emron Musavi, the army’s public-relations officer for Kashmir and Ladakh, did not respond to questions. RR Swain, a special director-general of police for intelligence and the head of the CID in Kashmir, said he did not have permission to respond to the questions asked of him and instead directed The Caravan to contact Jammu and Kashmir’s director general of police, Dilbag Singh. Neither Singh nor Vijay Kumar, the inspector general of police for the Kashmir zone, responded to questions.

A NEWLY BUILT police bunker welcomes visitors at the entrance of the Press Enclave in the heart of Lal Chowk, Srinagar’s city centre. Journalists prefer to call the place Mushtaq Enclave, after the photojournalist Mushtaq Ahmad, who was killed in a parcel-bomb attack in September 1995. It houses the offices of over a dozen newspapers and the residential quarters of many journalists. Until a few years ago, it used to buzz with reporters sharing stories over tea, but when I walked past it recently only police and paramilitary troops seemed to be around. A building at the far end—the office of the veteran Kashmiri journalist Yusuf Jameel for nearly three decades—had been taken over by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s counter-intelligence unit.

Mohammad Syeed Malik is perhaps the oldest journalist writing in English in Kashmir today. In the 1960s, he was among the first Muslims to join the press in Kashmir, which until then was dominated by Kashmiri Pandits. “Neither politics nor journalism in Kashmir was ever as free as it was in the rest of the country,” he said. “From phase to phase, era to era, regime to regime and situation to situation, the restrictions we faced changed.” He told me that in 1948, when Sheikh Abdullah came to power as the first prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and the region made a tenuous transition from autocracy to democracy, the press saw no major shifts. “You had to only write for the ruling party or be banished,” Malik said. “That was the rule.”

According to him, the current tone of the press in Kashmir was set during the tenure of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. In 1953, Mohammad became the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir after staging an India-backed coup against Sheikh Abdullah. “A phenomenon emerged where, apart from the few local journalists who defied orders and threats to report bravely, much of the press began to be arm-twisted into portraying what Delhi wanted to see,” Malik said. “The government would bring correspondents from outside and tell them Kashmir is paradise, and hide the truth about the simmering unrest.” This was the moment, he said, that an iron curtain was drawn between mainland India and Kashmir, with irreconcilably different pictures of the situation across the divide.

A meeting of journalists in Srinagar to discuss the coup at the Kashmir Press Club. Journalists in Kashmir face state surveillance, police investigations and arrests. Several reported severe stress and mental-health issues following the abrogation of Article 370.

In the late 1980s, a raging insurgency began against Indian rule. Initially, Malik said, “the militant groups fighting for Kashmiri independence from Indian rule began pressuring the local media. Militants visited newspaper offices and told them what to write. The government also didn’t hold back. Since then, there has always been an attempt to black out Kashmir from the news.” The dual pressure, however, with threats coming from both sides, also helped professionalise the media space. Journalists had to walk a strict path of careful and incisive reporting, shielded only by neutral language. Malik said that after the terror attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, governments around the world began to become more comfortable with liberally using anti-terror laws. Some of the first victims of this were Kashmiri journalists.

Rashid Maqbool Bhat, a media researcher, told me that while arrests and cases against journalists draw most attention, media censorship in Kashmir is often conducted quietly, by starving press organisations of funds. “Kashmir is a small place and the media industry here has been a very small industry despite it being a region of global interest,” he said. “We have no well-developed television or online media houses. News is largely in print alone and newspapers depend on advertising as their primary source of income.” The biggest source of advertisements is the government. “This has been used as an instrument of control since the 1990s,” Bhat said. “Ads come from the government’s information department but only on certain conditions. If you do not do certain kinds of stories, or if you do not use certain kinds of language, only then will you be favoured.”

An example of how threats and government favours have affected the local press is the case of Greater Kashmir. Founded at the height of the insurgency, in 1987, it grew to be one of the few independent institutions of the Kashmiri press. It was the first English-language newspaper owned by a Kashmiri Muslim, and carried reports by local Kashmiris. Over the years, also publishing from the Jammu region, the paper became a household name, garnering over two million likes on Facebook and earning a small but global audience.

At its peak, Greater Kashmir had over three hundred employees. But government pressure—in the form of an advertisement blockade and a summons from the NIA in 2019 to editor-in-chief Fayaz Kulloo and publisher Rashid Makhdoomi—hit it hard. It has less than a hundred employees at present, many at lower salaries than earlier. The story of the summons and the six-day interrogation of Makdhoomi and Kulloo was not even broken by Greater Kashmir. Kuloo soon resigned from his post at the Kashmir’s Editors Guild and his paper began toning down the news it carried. After the raid against Shah Abbas and the three others, it came as no surprise to anyone that Kashmir Uzma, Greater Kashmir’s sister publication in Urdu, was in a hurry to terminate him even before the investigation against him had been completed. Greater Kashmir also removed all of Yousuf’s work from its website when he was arrested.

These conditions have starved Kashmir of good reporters. “Local media remains small because of this and they can’t afford to pay good salaries,” Bhat said “Local reporters and editors, they are getting peanuts. It just isn’t a viable profession.” He said the only way for reporters to make it out of penury in the valley was by working for international media organisations, as well as some independent portals from mainland India, which paid well and were not as easy for the government to censor. He said this had nurtured a new generation of spirited reporters who had the space to write critically of the state. These are many of the same journalists the government is currently targeting with cases, raids and arrests. “What is happening now is the internalisation of fear. There is a lot of monitoring happening and there is fear psychosis,” Bhat said. “Kashmir media seems to be in a state of shock. Many stories are dying. I don’t think I have seen a more severe phase for the media in the last 30 years.”

A wall in Srinagar’s Press Enclave advertising various newspapers alongside a photo of Shujaat Bukhari, the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, who was assassinated in broad daylight by unknown assailants in 2018.

NESTLED ON THE BANKS of the Jhelum, overlooking the office of Doordarshan—the Indian government’s state-owned mouthpiece—lies the CID headquarters of Jammu and Kashmir. It is painted a garish white, perhaps to symbolise the CID’s officially stated purpose of bringing peace to the valley, and is often called “the white house.” Since the abrogation of Article 370, it is from here that many of the calls ordering the police to interrogate journalists have been going out. A reporter once joked to me that white in Kashmir had stopped symbolising peace ever since the construction of the CID headquarters. Instead, it has become the colour of surveillance.

Adjacent to the CID office lies the boundary wall of a heritage building, now an emporium for the handicrafts department. Before the abrogation of Article 370, the wall was covered with colourful graffiti portraying the many everyday miseries of the valley. It carried slogans about Kunan Poshpora, twin villages in north-western Kashmir where, in 1991, Indian army personnel allegedly gang-raped 23 women, while enjoying near-total legal immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Other slogans simply read “Kashmir Bleeds” or “Azadi.” Alongside it used to sit a carefully illustrated portrait of Maqbool Bhat, the co-founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a pro-freedom militant organisation.

When I visited the CID office, the graffiti had been blacked out. This seemed somehow fitting. Leaving the CID office, one walked out under the gaze of over a dozen CCTV cameras to see yet another erasure of Kashmiri history, yet another militarised silencing of Kashmiri voices. But in one corner, only mildly blackened, I could still read: “You can kill us but you can’t break us.”

I had come to speak to CID officers about what they thought of the ongoing crackdown on journalists. A dozen officers agreed to speak to me over the course of my reporting, all off the record. They helped me understand the sheer size of the surveillance net that has been hanging over the heads of Kashmiri journalists.

“Their phones are under surveillance. The people who are tapping the phones are all outsiders,” a senior Kashmiri police official in his mid thirties told me. “A separate Media Monitoring Cell was formed in order to monitor the activities and stories written by local journalists. Freelancers and those journalists who report for international publications are genuinely a problem for us.”

The officer said that reporters who wrote for foreign portals, particularly news organisation based in Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and the United States, were of particular interest to the CID, and were closely monitored. “They are maligning the image of the country,” he said. “International publications like Al Jazeera, TRT World, Guardian and others for which Kashmiri journalists write have a global audience. The CID department is making sure that no reporting on separatism, terrorism, human rights, pro-Kashmir, Article 370 and defence issues is being done by Kashmiri journalists.”

A second senior officer, in his early forties, also said that those writing for publications outside the valley were the primary target. “All those who write for them and other few media houses in India that report on Kashmir are on our radar,” he said. “It is a process of exploration and we will go after every single journalist who is on our radar. The critical reporting of the journalist is a self-made dossier for us to use. Every journalist has a file in the CID department and anyone can be added to the Look Out Circular list.” Having their name on a “Look Out Circular” effectively stops a journalist from being able to travel outside the country. The officer told me that at least two hundred individuals were on the list in Kashmir, including local journalists, lawyers, academics, businessmen and the families of resistance leaders.

The officer in his forties repeatedly tried to convince me that this operation was necessary to protect the national interest. “Militancy in Kashmir is the country’s main issue and it has external dimensions as well,” he said. “Among all challenges the country is facing, the Kashmir issue is the one which has a global implication.” When I suggested that the CID’s operations were an infringement of rights, he told me, “Ideas like liberty and freedom are Western notions and followed there only. If we go by the idea then, for instance, third-degree torture is not allowed. But this is being practiced in Kashmir with most of the alleged criminals while investigating.” Counting on his fingers, the officer told me, “There are three types of terrorists—ones who carry weapons, white collar terrorists who are from the business community and journalists and academicians who are narrative terrorists.” He ended by saying, “Country daleel sunnay ke leye tayar nae hai”—The country is not ready to listen.

Like the officer in his forties, several other Kashmiri officers I spoke to had grown bitter following the abrogation of Article 370. While the new regime had given them almost a carte blanche in how they dealt with their fellow citizens, they were alarmed by how it had parachuted in police leadership from outside the valley. This was true for the CID too, where seven of the ten most senior officers were outsiders. It seemed the years of service Kashmiri officers had put in, including in counter-insurgency operations, did not count for much. For the rulers in Delhi, as for those in Srinagar, it seemed that what mattered was your ethnicity, no matter the service you had put in.

Sitting in central Srinagar, under a chinar tree—often a symbol of Kashmiri resilience in the face of adversity—the officer in his thirties told me about a database being created of journalists in Kashmir. They had noted the details of more than 180 journalists already, he said, and this was why there had been a recent spate of journalists being called in for questioning. “The questions that are being asked to the journalists include the details about the ownership of property like residential houses, vehicles, and other assets of the family,” he said. “Other than these questions, we ask about their political allegiance, details of friends and relatives living in Pakistan. Journalists have also been asked to reveal details of their social-media accounts, sources of income and bank credentials.” A third police officer told me that, since the abrogation of Article 370, nearly 180 journalists had been called for similar questioning.

From a fourth officer, I was able to acquire a copy of the questionnaire the CID fills up following the grilling of a journalist. It casts a wide net, asking not only about the journalist but also about their parents, siblings, children and spouse. A special section at the bottom asks for details of their close friends, if they had any family in the army or police, and also “a brief history of the subject.” The officer in his mid thirties said that the Media Monitoring Cell “would be able to set the tone of the narrative in Kashmiri news.”

The Crime Investigation Department’s headquarters in Srinagar, locally called “the White House.” The CID has recently morphed into the administration’s most efficient tool against outspoken Kashmiri journalists.

The officer in his mid thirties said that, alongside the questionnaires, their work also involved analysing stories filed from all the districts of Kashmir. He also boasted that if they felt a story was going against their interests, whether in the local or national media, all it takes was a phone call to have the story taken down. “If, in case, we feel any news story is against the state,” he added, “we recommend the higher-ups to summon such journalists in order to convey our message about the repercussions that could follow.”

When I asked what motivated him to surveil journalists, he said, “We are monitoring them because we believe they have a particular ideological slant. They are propagating their politics in the garb of journalism. In this war of narratives, we are showing them their place.” He told me the administration keeps an eye even on the style sheets of the local media, carefully scouring the words they use. “For example, before abrogation they used to all use the word ‘militant.’ Now we have clearly asked them to use the word ‘terrorist.’”

A JOURNALIST who worked for Rising Kashmir for over six years, and who wished to remain anonymous, told me that using the word “terrorist” was not often easy in a conflict zone. “In Kashmir, we have two guns pointed at us,” he said. “One is in the hands of government forces and another in the hands of armed rebels. The term ‘militant’ started being used when the mass uprising started in Kashmir in early 1990s. At that time, there was pressure from both the sides, one side asking to be described as Mujahids and the other side asking that they be called terrorists.” He said that newspapers in Kashmir had unanimously struck a balance with “militant,” a neutral term. “We were writing this term for the past thirty years and both sides were fine with it, only now are the administration forcing us to do otherwise.”

Referring to the murder of Shujaat Bukhari, the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, who was assassinated in broad daylight by unknown assailants in 2018, the former employee of the paper said that journalists were always in danger. “There is no guarantee to our life,” he told me. “The new terminology is putting us in danger and the term also goes against the aspirations of several people here. As they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and we will also face social boycotts for using that term. As journalists, we need to strike a balance. We can’t ignore the other side of the story.”

Nomenclatural shifts like this, however, have helped the Jammu and Kashmir administration weed out journalists who do not toe the line. On 15 July, Sajad Kralyari, the front-page editor of Rising Kashmir, in an office WhatsApp group titled, “RK Layout & Editor,” wrote, “@AjmerSingh I don’t want to be problematic for organisation, we were forced to write terrorists…I’m thinking of organisation and leaving it on cordial note… Thank you.” Ajmer Singh is a former army officer and the consulting editor of Rising Kashmir. After posting the message, Kralyari left the group. The next day, a meeting was held by the Rising Kashmir administration and Kralyari was persuaded not to leave. Two weeks later, Kralyari and two other staff members were fired from the organisation for not complying with the “new terminology policy.”

Others told me about how they had been fired on equally brittle grounds. The newspaper industry in Kashmir is precariously unorganised. Journalists often do not get formal offer letters and are even less likely to get relieving letter. They are verbally appointed and verbally terminated based on how carefully they comply with the nebulous orders that get transferred from the authorities to the editors of their organisations.

Rising Kashmir is now among the worst offenders with regard to recent changes in editorial policy and the witch-hunting of journalists who did not accept those changes. In 2021, the organisation terminated seven journalists, many of whom told me this was because they did not accept the shift in the newspaper’s editorial policy.

In August 2021, Irfan Amin Malik, who was working as Rising Kashmir’s online editor, wrote a tweet criticising the new film policy for Jammu and Kashmir, according to which filmmakers have to submit their scripts for to the government to get approval for shooting. Worried about its implications, he took down the tweet after just two minutes. Shortly afterwards, he was summoned to the local police station in the town of Tral, in southern Kashmir, where he was questioned for five hours. That same day, Rising Kashmir decided to terminate Malik’s employment.

Muhammad Raafi, a sub-editor who managed Rising Kashmir’s political page, was fired in the middle of the night on 7 February 2021. “There were heated arguments in our newsroom on several occasions,” Raafi told me. “The owner, Ayaz Hafiz Gani, and Ajmer Singh, the consulting editor, wanted the local mainstream politics, NC and PDP, to be annihilated from the newspaper. Rising Kashmir is a local newspaper and it is important that local politics gets reflected in the paper. But, instead of that, I was asked to carry statements of spokespersons from Delhi’s BJP.” Gani was also part of the delegation of media persons who met the foreign diplomats in January 2020.

Four days before Raafi was fired, G Kishan Reddy, the union minister of state for home affairs, had told parliament that, since the abrogation of Article 370, “613 persons including separatists, over-ground workers, stone pelters etcetera were detained at various points of time.” Reddy said that of those detained, “430 persons have been released till date.” He also claimed that the “government of Jammu and Kashmir has further reported that no person is under house arrest in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.” On 4 February, Mirvaiz Umar Farooq, a Hurriyat leader, called Reddy’s statement misleading. Mirvaiz said that a police vehicle had been permanently stationed outside his residence since August 2019, and “I was restricted from stepping out. If that move is not house arrest then what is it? If I was not under house arrest, then why I was not being allowed to come out of my house?” Rising Kashmir’s 4 February edition published Reddy’s statement as a lead story on the second page, without any mention of Mirvaiz or even a rudimentary fact-check of the minister’s statement. Raafi told me that he had finalised the second page with Mirvaiz’s statement included but had later been told to remove it. He refused.

On the night of 7 February, Raafi said, “I was asked to remove the statement of Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah and carry the Delhi BJP’s spokesperson statement. I did not obey and they started insisting. I didn’t bow down and finally they changed the page. I received an SMS later that I have been terminated from services.”

The former Rising Kashmir employee who had worked at the paper for six years told me he was intimately aware of how the daily had changed over the years. “I was associated with Rising Kashmir since 2018,” he said. Apart from being made to use “terrorist” instead of “militant,” he said, “there were other changes too—like we had to change from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. This didn’t sit well with the staff and we told the editor and owner that if we write this this might lead to a threat to our lives. The management and editorial team grew bitter after we told them this and fifteen or twenty days later four people were fired from the paper without any serving period or any advance salary.” The former employee said that the only reason the newspaper gave for this was that the ideology of the reporters did not fit the newspaper’s policy.

The former employee said that there seemed no end to the changes in coverage that the editors, working on the orders of the authorities, wanted. “We were given verbal warning regarding the use of social media, that we shouldn’t put up anything which doesn’t suit the editorial line,” he told me. “If there was a change then the government uses only verbal orders so that nothing goes on the record. Whatever goes on papers will become an archive and sooner or later it will emerge and so they ensure there is no trace or evidence. We were simply told, ‘The orders have come from above,’ and we were expected to follow unquestioningly.”

“They asked us to bend and we started crawling,” he told me. “That’s what is happening in Kashmir’s newspapers, they started crawling and now they are digging their own graves.”

WHILE EDITORIAL CHANGES are communicated in whispers and untraceable verbal orders, the policy that guides the Jammu and Kashmir government’s strict control of the media is anything but opaque. On 15 May 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir Directorate of Information and Public Relations issued a 53-page media policy, laying down the contours of what journalism in Kashmir is expected to be. The policy details a plan to flood various platforms—including social media—with the “achievements” of the government, coercing news organisations to not only make the government’s “development” achievements a central focus but also to largely limit their coverage to that alone.

Journalists covering an armed clash between government forces and militants outside Srinagar in the summer of 2021. Caught between state violence and the insurgency, several journalists in the region have been killed.

The policy also discusses various ways in which the administration can bring media organisations to heel. “There shall be no release of advertisements to any media which incite or intend to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of India or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behaviour,” the document states. It notes that the administration should empanel publications for only six months in case they refuse to publish government advertisements. Moreover, it suggests that the DIPR can set up an internal mechanism to suspend “violators” in case they do not follow “the guidelines.” Though appeals can be made to a review committee, headed by the administrative secretary of the department and the additional secretary of the home department, the DIPR has ultimate power over advertisements and empanelling.

The policy further proposes a shift of attention from the traditional print media to online media outlets and also television and radio stations, earmarking at least 40 percent of the advertisement budget for the latter. Online news platforms and social media are described as “special areas of attention,” and the policy’s “key components” include the creation of “a full fledged Social Media Cell in its [DIPR’s] repertoire for dissemination of information and monitoring of misinformation.” Kashmir has no major television or radio channels, and the choice to divert advertising from print media—where the majority of Kashmiri journalists work—seems an attempt to further tighten the noose on the press.

The media policy also lets the regime determine who can be legally protected as a journalist and who cannot. It states that the DIPR shall involve “relevant authorities” in approving the accreditation of journalists in Kashmir. “Similarly, while giving finalizing accreditations, a robust background check including verification of antecedents of each journalist would be carried out with the assistance of the relevant authorities,” it says.

Several reporters I spoke to said they feared that this process would mean losing their press IDs the moment they wrote anything that was seen as critical of the regime. In previous cases of harassment, such as the UAPA case against Yousuf, among the first moves that law-enforcement officials made was questioning the person’s status as a journalist.

The media policy also clearly outlines the use of criminal investigations to silence journalists that the administration deems to be spreading “fake news.” “Any individual or group indulging in fake news, unethical or anti-national activities or plagiarism shall be de-empanelled (shorn of official recognition and access) besides being proceeded against under the law,” the policy states. It also specifies the prosecution of journalists under the Indian Penal Code and cyber laws in such cases. The policy, however, does not detail the process to determine what constitutes fake news, nor does it mention the inclusion of any journalistic bodies in the process, national or local, or any formal fact-checking mechanisms. With the policy’s current phrasing, including its scaremongering about “attempts to use media to incite communal passions … and propagate any information prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India,” reporters I spoke to feared the worst from it. The Jammu and Kashmir DIPR did not respond to questions that emailed to it.

Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog for press freedom, has criticised the policy, calling it “Orwellian.” It notes that the media policy is a “serious threat to the press freedom” and gives unbridled powers to the authorities to control all forms of dissent in Kashmir. Rayan Naqash, an independent journalist who has reported extensively on media censorship in Kashmir, has examined how the media policy’s execution has led to the Delhi-run administration dominating Kashmir’s print space, replacing news with government public-relations material. “The policy’s working idea, it seems, is to be a magic bullet to quell discontent among the people by filling newspapers with details of government initiatives, but without nuance or any explanation of how they might work,” he wrote in Newslaundry.

Naqash told me, “This guiding principle of the policy assumes that the public doesn’t want to or is unable to understand the process of governance. Journalists are expected to propagate and the public is expected to take government claims without question. This is also reflective of the government’s nature of evading accountability and denying participation of the public in governance issues.”

The officer in his forties told me that, like the leadership of the state’s law-enforcement agencies, narratives too would be imported from mainland India. “The state is not an ideological believer and in statecraft the state does not believe in ethics,” he said. “In Kashmir, we have think-tanks like the Vivekananda Foundation”—a right-wing Delhi-based organisation known to be close to the BJP—“where we take services of intellectuals and other journalists.” Whether or not a “New Kashmir” has arrived on the streets of Srinagar, as Modi announced in a speech following the abrogation of Article 370, it has arrived in Kashmir’s newspapers.

MONTHS AFTER THE ABROGATION of Article 370, Junaid Kathju, a former chief reporter of Rising Kashmir, searched for a story he had earlier done for the newspaper. To his surprise, he could not find it on the newspaper’s website. He searched for a few other stories that he had done for the newspaper in his long years on the job, but he found none. When asked, a senior Rising Kashmir’s staffer told him the paper was going through a website upgrade and that archived stories were yet to be uploaded. “He said that it would take some time, and I trusted his word,” Kathju told me. His stories never reappeared.

“We realised only later that it was a plan to erase everything that is against the government or anything that shows the authorities in a bad light,” Kathju said. “For a reporter, bylines matter. If I have to apply for a job somewhere, I have to show my body of work. What will I show now?”

Kathju is not alone. Several of the reports by the late Shujaat Bukhari, the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, seem to also have disappeared from the website. Bukhari had built Rising Kashmir from its inception, training and mentoring hundreds of journalists and making the paper one of the most widely read in the region. Many journalists Bukhari mentored now work for leading national newspapers and magazines or write for international organisations. A collection of his work was published in a book titled Frontline. None of the articles in it are available on the newspaper’s website any longer.

A newspaper being published at a press in Rangrate, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Newspapers in the region have shifted to largely only covering press releases from the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and statements from BJP spokespersons. Several reporters complained that they were not allowed to cover statements by the NC or PDP, or even news about violent clashes in the region.

It is not just Rising Kashmir that has been purging its archives. Irfan Amin Malik, a former south-Kashmir correspondent for Greater Kashmir—the most-circulated newspaper from the valley—also lost years of his work in a purge of its online archive. “I was shocked and angry when I could not find my stories on the Greater Kashmir website,” he told me. “It is sad that my years of work are unavailable just because the Greater Kashmir management bent. I wonder why they did not seek the permission of reporters before their work was removed from the database. I had done a huge number of stories, and they were my property. I accumulated them with hard work and struggle. For now I will try to get my work back on a storage device so that tomorrow I will have offline archives available with me.” Some of Malik’s former colleagues had also had their work removed. “Greater Kashmir might have been pressured by the government to remove all the previously published stories which the government does not like,” he said.

Another reporter, who has worked with three leading newspapers including Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir, said that all his work had been removed from the websites of all three papers. “It is a deliberate attempt,” the reporter said, asking not to be named. “Whether they have been told verbally by the authorities or whether there is an explicit order to remove it is unclear. It could be both, only the owners or managers know how and why our work was erased.” The reporter said his work had been available till the abrogation of Article 370, but he saw it begin disappearing shortly afterwards. Gowhar, the author and journalist, told me, “It is more than evident that this regime is on a mission to erase individual and collective memories, distort history, and to manufacture a new history that suits its own civilisational and ideological project with respect to Kashmir.”

Greater Kashmir did not respond to questions about the purging of its archive. In response to questions about the firing of Rising Kashmir staff and the disappearance of old stories from its archive, Hafiz Ayaz Gani, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, wrote back, “At the very outset we fail to comprehend your locus in asking these questions from us. We are not obliged to disclose to you the internal matters of this news paper. We don’t wish to participate in the proposed news story.”

Perhaps the best example of the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s erasure of the region’s history and manipulation of its media came on 22 October 2020. Manoj Sinha, the lieutenant governor, was inaugurating a “National Symposium and Exhibition on the Memories of 22 October 1947”—when Pashtun militias entered Kashmir shortly before its accession to India. In the exhibition, photos of which Sinha put up on his Twitter handle, were newspaper prints from that day. In a front-page print of Hindustan Times that Sinha appeared to be admiring, a headline declared, “Kashmir accedes to India.” Another article on the same page was titled “Plebiscite soon on ruler’s decision”—but this was blurred out in the exhibition.

Shahid Tantray is a multimedia reporter at The Caravan. He tweets at @shahidtantray. [Please subscribe to and support The Caravan]

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