Kashmir Press: A Journey from Past to Present

Kashmir Press: A Journey from Past to Present
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M J Aslam

Notwithstanding that the printing press was invented in mid 15th century, the initial newspapers in the world started their publication in Germany, England and other European countries only in 17th &and 18th centuries. During the 20th century, radio and television were invented, and the journalists used these to disseminate information among the public on matters related to society, politics, culture, finance, sports, history, geography, national and international affairs on a daily basis. The journalists, then, found 21st century’s great technological invention, the internet, as their latest medium of updating public, by transmitting information to them, on multiple issues via online-papers-magazines-periodicals-journals, Facebook pages, twitter accounts and so on.
In Europe and other countries, before invention of printing press and newspapers, the news was spread by word of mouth by the peddlers from place to place within geographies and beyond after receiving the same from the merchants and travelers who had visited the area wherefrom the news had come. The oral spread of news, which was often contaminated by rumors and canards, lost its relevance with introduction of newspapers followed by radio, television and internet.
A comment about Khabar-e-Zain-e-Kadal-e-Chi:
In the past, in the capital city of Kashmir, Srinagar, there was an evil system among Kashmiris of disseminating false rumours. Srinagar’s Zaina Kadal, 4th bridge then, 6th bridge now, in a sequence of bridges across Jhelum, used to be the place where false rumours were hatched, but then the news makers moved to Amira Kadal, 6th bridge, wherefrom they further passed it on to others. Though the wise knew that news from Zaina Kadal , which was locally called Khabar-e-Zain-e-Kadal-e-Chi, was false, the majority were not that wise. (The Valley of Kashmir, Sir W R Lawrence (1895) page 8). The system of spreading fake news by word of mouth continued among Kashmiris till the beginning of 1960s, albeit spread of news by word of mouth had ended in Europe and India centuries before.
Emergence of the Kashmir press:
Kashmir’s first “regular” private weekly in Urdu, “Hamdard”, had started its publication since 1935. First regular Daily of Kashmir, “Aftab”, in Urdu, was started in 1958 which introduced first time “street sale” of a Daily newspaper in Kashmir valley. It was followed by another Urdu Daily, “Srinagar Times”, in 1969 which introduced “cartoon news” first time in Kashmir. The first “independent” English Daily of Kashmir was “Kashmir Times” that started its publication as Weekly in 1954 and asa Daily in 1964 through Ved Bhasin. Apart from these prominent newspapers, there were also some “less known” Weeklies published in Kashmir. From 1990 onwards, the valley has witnessed spurt growth of dailies and periodicals.
Exploitation of absence of “independent” Kashmir press:
The absence of “private” media in Kashmir till 1958 provided fertile ground to the local “pro-India” politicians of that time and even before, to exploit the age old illiteracy, poverty and other backwardness of the common people for spewing out unhindered their narratives about Kashmir and political developments of the Indian subcontinent at that time that had a direct bearing upon JK-issue. The “dissent” was crushed simultaneously through the paid-hooligans of these politicians and the State machinery that they controlled after taking over aegis of “power” as “Emergency Administrator” to “puppet rulers” till 1975. Administrative onslaught with the help of police and agencies was so heavy that their narratives became, willingly or unwillingly, “dominant discourse” among common Kashmiris during most crucial decades of Kashmir’s political history immediately before and after Partition. Its direct result was that “dissent” was coercively confined to few areas of Srinagar city only. All this sordid state of affairs within JK, unfortunately, remained hidden from the outside people for most of the period of time, although everything that was going on within the vale was well recorded and documented. It came to the fore only with relaxation of censorships and sweeping strides of information technology, world over.
Pre-1947 Kashmir-scene:
Before 1947, the atrocities of Dogra rulers (1846-1947) on their Muslim subjects were not highlighted by the Press. The local newspapers faced censorship on publishing any news against the rulers’ unjust and arbitrary policies and actions. Any column against the government, if published in local newspapers, was dubbed as anti-national and anti-government. There was no freedom to criticise the autocratic rulers. Any criticism of the monarchs, their policies and decisions was considered to be a “seditious label”. Even any letter or news by Kashmir’s first political centre or group, Reading-Room Party of Fateh Kadal, Srinagar, against the government’s policies with respect to subjugated Muslim majority of the State was not permitted to be published in local newspapers. In Britain, till 19th century, it may be recalled here, Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818) was getting his letters leveling trenchant criticism against King published and republished in Public Advertiser, London Evening Post, other weeklies and periodicals under a penname of Junius. (Lord Denning‘s Landmarks in the Law (2014-Oxford) pages 283-284) But in JK, one could not think of writing against the Dogra rulers’ anti-Muslim policies under a pseudonym even.
The absence of “real private” Press and autocratic censorship on anti-government-news forced the leaders to get their letters published in “Muslim Press” of British-Punjab at Lahore. The Lahore-based “Muslim Press” through Inqilab, Siyasat, Zamindar and others newspapers regularly highlighted, in their reports , columns & editorials, the miserable conditions and adverse circumstances in which JK Muslims had been living under autocratic Dogra rule. Late M M Isaaq of the Plebiscite Front who had business outlets in Rawalpindi used to bring with him copies of the newspapers, magazines nd periodicals from Lahore that adequately depicted the disturbing ground realities of JK which were nothing but long sufferings of Muslim subjects at the hands of their rulers.
The “Hindu Press” through its newspapers, Pratap, Amar Ujala, Guru Ghantaal and Milap, had been openly supporting the despotic Dogra [Hindu] rulers & lending direct support to their suppressive rule and arm-twisting measures against the overwhelming Muslim majority of 85% by enticing the monarch to invoke the provisions of the draconian law like the Indian States (Protection against Disaffection) Act 1922 ( also called the Princes Protection Act, 1922) against [Muslim] leaders and subjects for raising voice against injustices and tyranny of beggar [nonpaid slave labour], deprivation of equal opportunities of employment and education, back-breaking exorbitant taxation and many other monarchial ills of the durbar. They, in their columns and editorials, would advise the monarch to declare 85% Muslim subjects and their leaders as “rebels”, “seditious” and “anti-government”. This was done by the journos and editors of “Hindu Press” under what is nowadays commonly known as the doctrine of “national interest”. However, it was a clear “polarization” of the Press. It won’t be wrong to call it demonisation of the poor Muslims and demeaning their sufferings by the Hindu journalists for a “Hindu Raja”. They were working with the Punjab’s Hindu Press, much before Partition.
Post-1947 scene: Indian Media manipulations:
History repeats itself. Today, this pre-partition position of the Punjab Press can be compared with “local Kashmir Press” that highlights the “ground realities” of Kashmir, at the one end, and Indian mainstream media, print as well as electronic, that totally blacklists the “actual news” from Kashmir in “national interest”, at the other end. Noted journalist, Tavleen Singh, in her book, “Kashmir: a Tragedy of Errors”, expresses her anguish on this destructive role of Indian media in these words: “The press was the main reason why the alienation of Kashmir began. The people were sensitive about the way they were being reported in the national press which was deliberately misinterpreting facts and events, making it possible for governments to get away with any short-sighted policy”. In the words of veteran journalist, Ved Bhasin, there has been a complete “criminal silence”, on the part of India media about what has been going on inside Kashmir since decades. Their “partisan” reporting about Kashmir doesn’t need any introduction. In fact, such biases have been inherited by “Indian Press” right from pre-partition days of “Hindu Punjab Press”. Post-partition, the same prejudices of twist and turn of facts to suit the “official narrative” were reflected in their news reporting, editorials and opinions during all important phases of political developments of Kashmir such as unceremonious dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah on 9th August 1953, plebiscite front days (1953-1975), holy relic theft (1964), Pandit agitation (1967), MUF’s participation in assembly elections of 1987 & massive rigging thereof, & many other important events of Kashmir. Tavleen Singh aptly summarises the pathetic position of the Indian press with respect to Kashmir by writing: “The national press, out of misguided patriotism, has always chosen to tell the national public less than the whole truth about Kashmir.” Another Indian researcher, Teresa Joseph, in her published paper, Kashmir Human Rights and the Indian Press, gives reason for such slant reporting by stating that: “The over-dependence on government sources appears to be the bane of the Indian press reports on Kashmir giving them an inherent bias towards the government position on the issues concerned, while ignoring the ground reality.”
Post-1990 scenario:
Ground reporting by “local newspapers” in a conflict zone like JK, especially since 1990, is not only commendable but it also exposes and debunks the one-sided reporting and talk- shows of primetime TV channels of India, columns and opinions by the Indian Press, in relation to Kashmir. But, despite that many Kashmiri journalists reporting for local Press are discharging their responsibilities in a ethical professional manner, there are “some” Kashmir-born journalists working for Indian mainstream media who are only obfuscating the facts on ground or tailoring them to suit their employers’ requirements in relation to Kashmir.
Within Kashmir, as on date, there is NO “private” TV channel to carry a news bulletin on day to day happenings inside Kashmir. Few “non local” TV channels, namely, Gulistaan news, ETV Urdu and 4TV Urdu , telecast daily “Kashmir news” bulletins & hold talk shows on “Kashmir affairs” in Urdu and Kashmiri. But the first two of them are Delhi based, while third one is aired from Hyderabad. None of these and other “private” news TV channels are “local” in any sense of term except some news-readers and reporters are local Kashmiris. But, in spite of that some Kashmiri boys are the news-readers and anchors with these non-local TV channels, these “private” TV channels are under the direct control and supervision of “non locals” who own and run them who in turn shape the government’s narrative on happenings in Kashmir. The reporting on Kashmir of 4TV Urdu is comparatively “objective” and “factual”. The news content and comments of other “private” TV channels about Kashmir are almost a carbon copy of mainstream Indian media channels.
DD has a regional TV channel almost in all regions and States of India. Unlike that of all other DD regional TV channels, which were are stationed and directly reporting from their respective States, DD Kashir was the only DD regional channel that was aired not from Kashmir but directly from Delhi for 17 years till 2006. It operates directly under Union Ministry of Information. In association with All India Radio, it has installed high power transmitters along LOC to counter “Pakistani narrative” on Kashmir which (countering) was actually the “object” behind its launching.
By 2010, some “local” Srinagar based private TV channels had sprung up and started telecasting evening news bulletins in Kashmiri and Urdu in Kashmir valley. But, with 2010 massive agitation of Kashmiri people, the news bulletins and talk shows about Kashmir affairs were all “permanently” banned by the government in 2010 itself as, according to the government, those channels had been “inciting” people for processions and protests against the government. Even “local press” was censored against publication of newspapers for several weeks. The publication of “only one newspaper”, after it explained its position to the authorities, was initially allowed, while the rest of the dailies resumed their publication, one by one, after several weeks. During the uprising of 2016, “Kashmir Reader” was the only newspaper that suffered censorship by the “authorities” for several months, for its pro-people, pro-reporting-cum-commenting on “live events” of Kashmir.
In the absence of “private” electronic media in Kashmir, we are, therefore, left with “private” print media or Press only. Almost all “independent” Kashmir based newspapers, periodicals and magazines have online access too. They have a tough competition with social media which is now extensively used by Kashmiris just like all other social media users all over India and beyond. Social media creates readership of content-creator-cum-consumer. It is in direct antagonism with the principle of mass media which creates “professional journalists” who create news for “others”. It is, however, always “consumer friendly” news content. Mass media is not as inclusive as social media.
But in a conflict-affected State like JK, “private” print media in Kashmir can’t fully and openly align with the government nor can become mouthpiece of State media at the cost of its “independence”. However, if 80-90% content of a Daily or periodical carries government adds only, it doesn’t affect its “independence” only, but renders it as a mere advertisement-display-tabloid.

—The author is an academic, a storyteller and a freelance-columnist. He can be reached at: mjaslam09@gmail.com

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