As the world fights coronavirus, the priorities of the Indian state remain vindictive against Kashmiris journalists that show the oppression and violence enforced in the occupied territories.
Kashmiri Prisons are blooming. Not by what “spring does to cherry trees,” but as coronavirus gave ample time to Indian authorities to attack the journalists in Kashmir and push them behind bars.
On April 21 a FIR was filed against journalist and author Gowhar Geelani. He was the third Kashmiri journalist to be booked in two days. As the world fights coronavirus, the priorities of the state remain vindictive.
At the daybreak on April 20, the Jammu and Kashmir police booked Masrat Zahra, a female freelance photojournalist from Kashmir under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for “uploading anti-national posts” with criminal intention to “induce the youth” and to promote offenses against “public peace.” As the day ended, The Hindu's Kashmir correspondent Peerzada Ashiq was hounded with an FIR against him.
Afterward, the Kashmir Press Club issued a press note which said, "Journalism is not a crime." The club asked journalists and media from all over the world to "support all Kashmiri journalists."
A day before, Gowhar had written in support of Masrat and Peerzada.
India has been claiming that everything in Kashmir is "normal." Amid all these claims, Masrat has been unraveling the disturbing truth through her lenses, busting the narrative of "peace." The police said "anti-national" posts of Masrat Zahra are inciting the youth against public peace that may “disturb law and order.”
Arifa Jan suffers frequent panic attacks nearly 2 decades after her husband was gunned down by Indian army in 2000,she can still hear the gunshots and sees her husband’s blood-soaked body when she thinks of him,“There were 18 bullet holes and I still remember how deep they were." pic.twitter.com/QOw2wHzllU— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) April 17, 2020
A scene in the movie Haider may be good to remember here in which the protagonist, Haider read Section 4(a) in The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958—
“if he (Armed Forces) is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order…”
Clicking photos of the conflict and war zones and uploading it on social media can in no way incite people to disturb “law and order” which belongs to Indian rule in Kashmir and not to the Kashmiris, as Haider would say.
It would not be wrong to say that the Indian authorities portrayed images of the army's brutality in Kashmir posted on Facebook as more dangerous than the brutalities. India would not denote Masrat as a journalist, but as a “Facebook user” to avoid any possible scrutiny. She has been covering the war for four years.
Zahra’s Facebook account reflects her works. She documents the everyday brutality of the Indian security forces in Kashmir. She told a digital news outlet, “I am a photojournalist, what else am I supposed to upload?” Booking her under Unlawful Activities Prevention (Act) under which a person could be jailed for up to seven years, means that India considers journalism in Kashmir as unlawful.
The authorities are covering up crimes against humanity like Facebook hides an image of violence or even censor the posts that the authorities don't like. The only difference is that for the government, the job of Facebook covers is done by the prison walls and real alive people are kept inside.
The languages of state apparatuses also reflect their intent towards the erasure of a history that says Kashmir is an occupied territory.
Her posts “glorify the anti-national activities” and dent the image of law enforcement agencies besides causing “disaffection against the country,” read the statement by Cyber police.
Historians would say that the charges of “anti-national” activities cannot be applied to Kashmiris because Kashmiris did not agree to merge with India in the first place. Indians should listen to Nehru's speech in which he said, “we don't want a forced union.”
In that scenario, imposing Indian rule in Kashmir would be sheer oppression and injustice. Fighting injustices and oppression is fundamental to natural justice. Hence, the question of tarnishing the “image of the agencies” falls flat.
India, after abrogating Article 370, blocked all communication. Kashmir is still on 2G Internet speed. The pictures of thousands of victims of war in Kashmir do not reach us. In such a situation, a woman lifted a camera, fought social pressure, and became a journalist. But the government pushed her into a dark prison cell.
Peerzada Aashiq may also have to go to a similar dark cell. Authorities said the newspaper published the news without “seeking confirmation” from the officials. Even if working in a reputed newspaper like 'The Hindu', all a Kashmiris get is punches, bullets, boots, and jail food. The government is doing this for two reasons. One, they can tell Indians that it is the right decision to shut down the medium of communication in the valley and two, that due to social media the militancy is increasing in Kashmir. Under this guise, the government is trying to sell Kashmiri land to the Indians. Recently, Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Jeelani wrote a letter saying, "India wants to change the demography of Kashmir."
Kashmiri journalists have been the target of the Indian state in the past as well and been persecuted in jail. Asif Sultan, a journalist in Kashmiri magazine Kashmir Narrator, has been in jail for many years. The international world has described his arrest as a crime. Earlier Junaid Dar was detained under UAPA. Recently, Peerzada Aashiq was also called for interrogation, before the FIR. Also, Kashmir Observer journalist Mushtaq Ahmed and The Print reporter Azaan Javaid were beaten-up.
Solidarity to the trio started pouring in from across the world. “Journalist Masrat Zahra has been documenting lives in Kashmir conflict for the last four years,” wrote TRT World journalist Baba Umar. “She deserves encouragement and accolades, not silencing.”
“Invoking UAPA is outrageous. In solidarity with our colleague, we demand the FIR be withdrawn,” wrote Muzamil Jaleel, senior journalist at New Delhi based daily Indian Express. "Journalism is not a crime. Intimidation/censorship would not silence Kashmir’s journalists.”
The Network for Women in India also wrote a note and said Masrat's photographs show “ground reality, deep compassion, and accurate reporting."
“Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq should be free to report on events in Jammu and Kashmir without facing harassment and intimidation from local authorities,” said Aliya Iftikhar, senior Asia researcher of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Police should drop their investigations into both journalists, and India should reform its laws to make such capricious actions by police impossible.”
Mirza Waheed, the renowned author wrote, “In solidarity with Peerzada Ashiq and Masrat Zahra. Sound, reliable journalism is more vital than ever.”
He asked the government to “drop all charges against them.” Such is the state of lockdown in Kashmir, which has been turned into a prison, will there ever be Spring in this “prison”? Time only hides its answer.
Meanwhile, an English translation anti-establishment poet, Gorakh Pandey is necessary here:
“Their thousand-years old anger
Parallels their hatred for you,
I am only clubbing
their scattered words
Sending the resultant music unto you,
But you fear
that I am Fueling
Amir Malik is a freelance journalist based in India.