Occupational Hazard 

When another journalist was manhandled by men in uniform over two months ago, the government did not even bother to issue its routine statement of defence.  During the past three years, there have been as many as twenty-seven attacks on media persons in the Kashmir Valley, the persecution evoking a sharp reaction from the chairman of the Press Council of India.  In a letter to the J&K Chief Minister, the PCI chief expressed dismay over the “use of force against journalists while performing professional duties.”  This was not an ordinary letter, reflect, as it did, the government’s failure to allow the press to function freely. But even this censure has changed little.

Even as man-handling and roughing up of journalists went on, the state’s onslaught took a new turn during 2010, when, for the first time, three breach-of-privilege notices were slammed against journalists in a single session of the Legislative Assembly.  Noted journalist, Ahmad Ali Fayaz’s disclosures about a National Conference leader in the Early Times on February 28 that year had come as a stunner, and he was ‘directed’ to explain his position. Soon after, renowned cartoonist and the editor of the Srinagar Times, Bashir Ahmad Bashir was also summoned to Jammu for similar reasons. He had published a cartoon depicting the `sad state of affairs’ in the Legislative Assembly. Bashir, however, was in high spirits, and keen to dash to Jammu to defend his work, but was later told that his presence on the floor of the house was not required. Another respected editor, R S Gill, had to appear before the Speaker to defend himself against a breach of privilege motion. Gill also stood by his story, `Best Legislator V/S Upright Principal,’ published in The Northlines on March 25, 2010.

And who can forget the attack on the Early Times in July 2010? Its press was sealed, and the editor’s residence raided, with the Chief Minister’s most trusted lieutenant misusing his official position to muzzle the press. He engaged the land mafia to grab land owned by the newspaper’s editor.

Curiously, NC leaders have been boasting of the `sacrifices’ their party has offered to uphold the freedom of the press. But the breach of privilege notices and the manhandling of journalists by security agencies reflect that the legislature and the government have grown increasingly intolerant during Omar Abdullah’s tenure. Security agencies, in particular, seem to have been given a free hand to put curbs and shackles on the press.