In Kashmir, media freedom has always remained in ruins considering the constant curbs, either through official or unofficial measures. Journalists have covered this decades-long conflict at the cost of their lives. Though, in the last two years, the freedom of the press has further deteriorated.
Media freedom has massively diminished in the aftermath of the 5 August 2019 decisions by the Centre, new curbs are being put in place to further choke freedom of the press. The latest move was an advisory given by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir range, Vijay Kumar, last week, saying that the media won’t be allowed to carry live reporting of the gunfights or the law and order situation. The main reason given for this advisory was that it “can instigate people in other adjoining areas of the operational site and lead to law and order situations.”
The police chief’s latest order must be seen in this backdrop of the fake gunfight in Shopian in July 2020 where three civilians, including a teenager, were killed by the Army and passed off as “terrorists”. The refusal of the government forces to identify the killed or hand over their bodies had already created an environment — the AFSPA being a given — that enabled the army to kill civilians for money since there was nobody to ask questions.
This latest diktat further eliminates any scope to question or seek accountability from the government forces. Already, the government forces have resorted to using unmarked vehicles and removing their name badges. This has directly enabled an atmosphere of impunity wherein a personnel or government vehicle involved in atrocity against civilians is sought to be given institutional cover. During gunfights, we have also witnessed countless examples of the forces resorting to disproportionate force — killing and maiming civilian protesters, blowing up houses etc, all passed off as collateral damage. The gunfight in the Nawakadal area of Srinagar 2020 is a case in point.
Seeking accountability from the government and its forces is a principle of democracy. The powers in New Delhi — and their vestiges in J-K — must abandon the practice of casting aspersions on the credibility of Kashmir journalists and alluding to journalism as anti-national. In the last two years, we have already witnessed journalists being booked under anti-terror laws, summoned and interrogated by law enforcement agencies for their reporting, and even threatened multiple times.
If the government forces don’t like what they read, it is perhaps best that they don’t commit those acts that journalists in turn report — there will be no criticism if there is no ill-deed. The contempt for journalism and the impunity to scuttle their freedom isn’t rooted in the government’s claims of journalism inciting violence, it is to hide their misdeeds.
Ensuring accountability from the government forces, in a fair world, would be seen as among the highest form of duty of citizens but keeping that aside, it is in New Delhi’s interest to make the government forces accountable to political oversight and take immediate steps to reconsider its cash-for-kill policy that has long acted as an incentive and motive behind gruesome human rights violations of Kashmiris by the government forces.