SRINAGAR: On the World Press Freedom Day, Central University of Kashmir vice-chancellor Mehrajuddin Mir ordered media faculty members to leave a function when journalism students held a silent protest against the frequent government curbs on the media in the state.
The event was organised by the JK Press Association in collaboration with the university’s media department to celebrate the day at its Nowgam campus.
The organisers had invited divisional commissioner Asgar Samoon and director information Muneer-ul-Islam from the government.
When Samoon was called to the dais, journalism students stood up, holding placards that said “Not Celebrating Press Freedom Day but Mourning It” and “We Want Press Freedom, not Fake Promises” and the opening line of revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s famous poem “Bol ki Lab Azad Hai Teyrey”.
For a brief moment, the students displayed the placards and then walked away. Samoon broke the silence, saying, “It is good and I appreciate it. This is a free way of expressing dissent and curbs on the media.”
The students held a silent sit-in outside the campus building till the event was over.
Soon after the students left, however, the VC asked former coordinator of media department and prominent writer Shahnaz Bashir to join the students’ protest.
Once Shahnaz left, the VC asked other media faculty members to follow.
“I congratulate the media faculty for organising the protests. Shahnaz sahib aap bahar jayiye aur students ko join kariye (Shanaz, please join the protesting students outside),” the VC said sarcastically.
After the event, Shahnaz was summoned first by dean media studies Syed Fayaz and then by the VC to their offices.
“The VC asked me why did the protest happen and why did I not stop them. I responded that I am not a policeman, nor can I grab them by their collar to prevent protests. I also told the VC that I believe students have a right to freedom. After my answers the VC told me he is not pinpointing me (as the instigator),” Shahnaz told Kashmir Reader.
Syed Fayaz first told this reporter to meet him in his office after an hour. He was not in his office when the reporter visited him. When contacted later on phone, Fayaz passed the buck to registrar.
“He can tell you what happened,” Fayaz said.
The VC denied that he had met Shahnaz but when this reporter persisted, he said “it was an informal meeting”.
“Everything was normal at the event. Students have a right to protest. The reason I pointed out Shahnaz was because he is the senior facility member. My meeting with Shahnaz was informal. I did not ask him anything about the event. In fact, I have told him to conduct a two-day seminar on media and law,” the VC said and hung-up the call.
The students justified their protest.
“What was the celebration about when there is no press freedom? How can state bureaucrats talk about press freedom when they issue the orders for crackdown on internet and newspapers, when journalists are beaten by police?” a student said on condition of anonymity as he feared reprisals from university authorities.