In an interview where she reveals the disquieting state of journalism in Kashmir and the disturbing treatment of Kashmiri journalists by the government, Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of The Kashmir Times, refuted minister of information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur’s criticism of her recent essay in The New York Times.
The minister said her “so-called opinion piece on freedom of press in Kashmir is mischievous and fictitious”, adding it was “published with a sole motive to spread a propaganda about India and its democratic institutions and values”. In response, Bhasin said she “completely refutes” what the minister has said. She added he “hasn’t contested the facts but (only) the interpretation of them”. She said she “absolutely stands by” what she has written adding the minister’s “over-reaction…vindicates my stand”.
Bhasin described in detail the way journalists are treated in Kashmir. She said: “government policies have virtually silenced the media”. She said journalists “work under surveillance”. She said they face “oral summons” and “interrogation” as well as “raids”. She said they are frequently being asked for “police verification”.
There are frequent “NIA raids on offices and residents of journalists…they are treated like criminals”, Bhasin continued. “Modi’s repressive media policies are destroying Kashmiri journalism, intimidating media outlets into serving as government mouthpieces…journalists (are) surveilled…the government (uses) strong arm tactics against media outlets to ensure favourable coverage…journalists are routinely summoned by the police, interrogated and threatened with charges such as income tax violations or terrorism or separatism. Several prominent journalists have been detained…many journalists self-censor or have simply quit. Fearing arrests some have fled into exile overseas…at least 20 others (are) on no-fly lists to prevent them from leaving the country…we work under a cloud of fear.”
When it was pointed out to Bhasin that the Union home minister and the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir have repeatedly said the situation in Kashmir is normal and they would, therefore, consider her description of the situation as lies, Bhasin said she is not lying – but they are.
Bhasin said her great fear is that the proposed amendments to the national guidelines for the digital media are very similar to the media rules promulgated in Kashmir in 2021, and just as the 2021 rules in Kashmir empower officials to label media content in Kashmir as “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national”, the national guidelines seem to have given the same power to officials. She said if the national guidelines become law “the rest of India may end up looking a lot like Kashmir”.
She was also sharply critical of the national mainstream media which has failed to report to the rest of the country the true and despairing state of journalism in Kashmir and the distressing treatment of journalists in the union territory.