Indian media bodies—Press Council of India, Indian Newspaper Society, Editors Guild of India, the various Press Clubs et al—have been happy to watch the extraordinary squeeze on journalism in Kashmir, following the Narendra Modi government’s decision to strip the Valley of special Article 370, silently from the sidelines.
Silence bordering on complicity.
It is as if it is OK if journalists cannot move around, cannot make phone calls, cannot send stories; as if it is OK for newspapers not to publish their editions, not to update their websites, not to be distributed; as if it is OK for only those equipped with OB vans or satellite phones to do journalism; as if it is OK if readers and viewers in Kashmir do not get to read their papers and watch their TV channels, as if it is OK if they are deprived of information on what is happening in their own homeland.
Well, like with so much else in India’s deeply flawed democracy which now depends on the moral compass of strong, independent-minded women to survive, Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times, (in picture, above) has mustered the intellectual courage to legally challenge the lockdown, which is but jargon for a brutal, undemocratic suppression of civil liberties.
Not surprisingly, her lead counsel is a woman: Vrinda Grover.
NEW DELHI, August 10: Today, Anuradha Bhasin, the Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India seeking directions to ensure that the State creates an enabling environment for journalists and all other media personnel in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir to practise their profession, and that the debilitating restrictions imposed through the complete shutdown on internet and telecommunication services, and severe curbs on the movement of photo journalists and reporters be immediately relaxed in order to ensure the freedom of the press and media.
The Petitioner is represented by her lawyers Vrinda Grover, Soutik Banerjee and Ratna Appnender, and it was filed through Sumika Hazarika, Advocte on Record.
The petitioner has not been able to print and publish the Kashmir edition of Kashmir Times as the complete and absolute restrictions on all communication services and movement has resulted in the imposition of blockade on media activities, including reporting and publishing on the situation in Kashmir.
The petitioner, Anuradha Bhasin, the Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, published simultaneously from Jammu and Srinagar, has also sought directions to the J&K government to relax restrictions to allow journalists to practice their profession and exercise their right to report freely on the situation prevailing in J&K after clampdown on entire state on August 4, 2019.
The petitioner said that such restrictions were curbing the rights of journalists under the provisions of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution of India and the right to know the conditions of residents of Kashmir Valley.
The petitioner said that the absolute and complete internet and telecommunication shutdown, severe restrictions on mobility and sweeping curtailment on information sharing in the Kashmir valley, at a time when significant political and constitutional changes are being undertaken in Delhi to the status of J&K, is fuelling anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of the Kashmir.
This petition has been filed as information blackout set in motion is a direct and grave violation of the right of the people to know about the decisions that directly impact their lives and their future. Also, for the reason that the media cannot report on the aforesaid developments, and neither can the opinions of the residents of Kashmir be reported about.
From August 4, 2019 onwards, mobile phone networks, internet services, and landline phone connectivity were all discontinued and shutdown, leaving Kashmir and some districts in Jammu completely isolated and cut off from all possible modes of communication and information. The communication blockade and strict restrictions on movement of journalists resulted in a virtual blackout, and media reporting and publishing is grievously impacted.
Also read: Hell for reporters, photogs in paradise