Is press in Kashmir a fourth estate?

JK Bank
Azhar Qadri taken away by police in Srinagar.

By Fahad Shah

[I]n the middle of the nineteenth century, a newspaper was started in Germany. Rheinische Zeitung was launched in January 1842 and edited by the famous Karl Marx. It was during the Prussian government of which the paper was critical and the Prussian state terminated it in March 1843. Due the political line of the paper it was demanded that it should tone down its voice. This led Marx, who was a philosopher, economist, historian, journalist and a sociologist, resign as its editor on 17 March 1843.


Later after two months of his resignation, Marx on behalf of the Communist League launched a daily newspaper, Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhenish Newspaper) in June 1848. In the articles, Marx wrote in the Rheinische Zeitung, he talked about censorship. On May 15, 1842, Marx wrote that the free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul, the embodiment of a people’s faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealises their crude material form.

“It is a people’s frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom,” he wrote.

Even after 170 years since this censorship and Marx’s ideas, the world has not moved. The censorship continues and the press has not been able to remain free. Journalists are beaten up and later detained. That makes it obvious that press is jailed. It is unfortunate to see the current regimes, be it anywhere, choking the “vigilant eye of a people’s soul” and breaking that “spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself” into small pieces.

On September 26, 2012, a journalist in Srinagar, Kashmir, went out to cover a protest led by some paramedic students. While he was there, eyewitnesses said a few policemen headed by an officer assaulted him and started beating him up. Azhar Qadri, the journalist who works with an Indian national newspaper’s valley edition, The Kashmir Tribune, was then detained and taken to a nearby police station. This is not first time that a journalist (a member of press) is beaten up or detained. It has been going on here for decades now.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) reiterated its alarm about the growing threats to journalists in India after Qadri was beaten and arrested by police. “We condemn violence by the Indian police against journalists and call on the authorities to do what is necessary to ensure that this latest attack does not go unpunished,” Reporters Without Borders said.

[pullquote]“Before releasing me, they made me sign a paper. When I asked why I had to sign it, they told me I’d better sign quietly or they would book me on fabricated charges.”[/pullquote]Qadri told RWB that he was forced into a police vehicle and taken to Shaheed Gunj police station, where he was held for over an hour. “Before releasing me, they made me sign a paper. When I asked why I had to sign it, they told me I’d better sign quietly or they would book me on fabricated charges,” he added. Reacting to the incident, RWB said that the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah must do more than just ’look at the question,’ as he had said during a news conference. “Concrete measures must be taken to guarantee journalists’ safety.”

Kashmir, the most militarized zone of world and the disputed region, has seen worst phases of violence since the armed rebellion started in 1989 between the local rebels and the Indian forces. In between all this the press started flourishing as the news became food. More and more people took up journalism as career, for both, telling the stories of their region and also earning a living. But it didn’t go well with the state and its forces. Journalists are often accused of being biased from both sides of the coin. Sometimes militants warn them and then the state which doesn’t warn- it just acts by jailing them or beating them up on roads, cancelling their curfew passes, putting up barbed wire around the Press Enclave. Adding to this sometimes a journalist receives a parcel and when he opens, it explodes.

What has been the tragedy amid all this is the class of information which is always filtered and doesn’t come out. The journalists working in Kashmir or writing about it are not less than anyone who is on war front. On every step there is a threat while doing their duty. This profession is called as the fourth estate of the democracy but in Kashmir, where there is no democracy, it is not even respected as an estate!