The ongoing communications and internet shutdown in Kashmir, which completed a month on September 5, has brought people closer to another medium and source of news – the radio. The transistors, earlier left untouched at homes, are now buzzing in hundreds of homes across the Valley, bringing authentic news of the current situation in the region, and what the world is saying about the scrapping of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state.
Parvaiz Ahmed, a businessman from Sopore, said he dusted off his old radio set soon after all communication lines were snapped by the government on August 5. Since then, he hasn’t parted with it – his only source of authentic news about Kashmir and the outside world.
“People in our village and neighbouring areas are eagerly listening to the news about Kashmir on their radio sets,” said Ahmed, adding that many often carry around the device while moving from one place to another just in case they need to tune in to any latest news about the region.
“After phones and internet services were banned, many people searched for their old radios at home and started listening to the news on their radios every day,” he said.
People in his village and in the neighbouring ones regularly tune in to news bulletins on two radio stations in particular – BBC London and Voice of America.
Ahmed said both the stations have been widely covering all the news about Kashmir since August 5, also airing views of people in the region about the prevailing situation.
“On radio stations like BBC, we get to know about the true picture of what’s happening in Kashmir and how the people are suffering due to the curfews, restrictions and telephone ban,” said Ahmed. “People are listening to the radio as they did during the 1990s when there was no internet and cable TV network.”
According to Ahmed, the Indian media is not a trusted source of news about Kashmir. “The Indian media is repeating what their government says about what is happening here. They are only speaking about normalcy which we can’t see anywhere,” he said. “Only the international media like the BBC is presenting the correct picture of Kashmir and what the people here feel without any bias.”
Ahmed said there has been an increased demand for radio sets in their village. Shops that are opened briefly, their shutters half down, are also thronged by people who want to buy the device.
“Whatever radio sets were left at the shops in our village were bought by people in the first week. Many people would also ask for battery cells for their old transistors,” said Ahmed. “People are anxious and hungry for any news on Kashmir these days.”
Several people in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district told this reporter they were deprived of even cable TV network. News channels from Pakistan also remain banned.
“Mostly only some Indian news channels appear on the local cable network now,” said a resident of Baramulla town. “But people are skeptical of their news and their biased coverage of Kashmir, so they avoid these news channels and instead prefer to listen to news from international radio stations like BBC, for example,” he said.
The BBC radio station had also started a messaging service for Kashmiris studying and working outside the Valley – those who were unable to get in touch with their families back home after the communication ban was imposed. The station would air their messages after the news bulletins.
Messages in their voices saying that they’re fine and have reached their destinations, for example, are aired on the station, bringing relief to their families back home.
Local papers becoming mouthpieces of government
The local newspapers have been playing it safe since August 5, mostly avoiding any independent coverage of the aftermath of the clampdown and communications blockade in the Valley fearing reprisal from government agencies. Many people in the Valley believe that instead of being the voice of the voiceless, the prominent local newspapers have become mouthpieces of the government.
In fact, several local English dailies, barring a few exceptions like the Kashmir Observer, have avoided publishing any editorials and regular columns on the ongoing situation in the Valley. Also, no informed critique or opinion pieces on the scrapping of Article 370 or on the communications gag have been published – except for one that appeared in Greater Kashmir that curiously argued in favour of the revocation.
Since last week, full-page government ads have been appearing on the front pages of several prominent dailies of Kashmir. One such ad explains “How will Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh benefit” from the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A. The government ads blitzkrieg in the local papers promise “a new dawn in Kashmir” even as the siege and the communications gag is yet to be lifted. Shops and business establishments have remained closed for more than 40 days. However, the government has been making repeated claims of a return to “normalcy” in Kashmir.
“The local newspapers are silent on how people are suffering and how thousands of people have been arrested after the entire Valley was locked down and all means of communication lines were shut,” said a local resident of Baramulla, a teacher by profession, who wished not to be named.
“But people are not fools here and we know what the local press is hiding by being silent under government pressure. International media is our only hope now.”