A good night’s sleep under the belt, I headed to the Press Enclave in Srinagar to talk to a video journalist who has been reporting from Kashmir since 1979. He has been roughed up several times by the government forces. “Too many times to be able to count,” he says. He was of the opinion that it was more difficult for the press to report during the 2010 unrest than the present one, as the government forces were less forgiving.
“Seventeen journalists were beaten up in one day,” he recounts. “This time it is the protesters who have been more aggressive as they are furious about the way the Indian media has reported.” He is of the opinion that the local Kashmiri media has paid for the sins of national media.
Suddenly, loud screaming in Kashmiri could be heard coming from downstairs. The younger journalists, who too were seated in the room, grabbed their cameras and rushed down. I was told that they had to rush to cover a protest that was happening in nearby Maisuma for the release of Yasin Malik – the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman, from prison on grounds of severe ill health. They were back sooner than I had thought, and said that the police stopped them after a point and did not allow them to cover the protest.
They settled down and got their laptops ready to upload the pictures and the videos they managed to take. While they were doing this, they spoke to me about their experiences of covering the present uprising and those in the past. One of them used to work with the local newspaper, Kashmir Reader, which was recently banned by the Jammu and Kashmir government. He is now a freelance photo journalist.
After a long chat and multiple rounds of tea, I bid good bye to these warm people. My next stop was a local café, by the banks of Jehlum, which is the meeting point for young intellectuals of Srinagar. I met a young, fiery and gifted journalist, whose articles I had been following. He was of the opinion that the Indian electronic media has declared war on the Kashmiri people. The appalling coverage has made the Kashmiri people angry and pushed them farther away from India. He was appreciative of sections of the print media but was skeptical about its impact. Everybody goes home and watches TV at night, but how many read?
I remember a time, not so long ago, when the government was contemplating installing a watch dog for the media. Generally, any government would feel such a need when the media has been doing good work, i.e., stories that question the government. Within no time the situation has changed drastically and the media has become its own watch dog. It has gagged itself, and derided those that question the government. An independent, unbiased and fair media is one of the most crucial pillars of democracy. It is the institution that holds the government accountable on behalf of the people. That pillar has collapsed, as far as electronic media is concerned.
After spending some time at the café, it was to time to head back. I was fortunate to get a lift on a scooty thanks to a friend well known to this magazine. There were three of us cramped in the tiny space, with only one of us being of slender proportions. Back in Mumbai or Delhi, one would be fearful of traffic cops in such a situation. Not in Kashmir. I joked that whatever happens, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law in Srinagar, that too for traveling triple seat on a scooty. What a shame that would be.