The ban on the Kashmir Reader has been lifted and the newspaper came out with an eight-page edition on Wednesday morning. As Hilal Mir, editor of Kashmir Reader, told The Wire, “we are back to full operations. Yesterday we were not fully prepared and so today we have come out with an eight-page edition but tomorrow we will come out with a full 12-page edition.”
Mir is still not sure what actually prompted the harsh action against it. Though American-Palestinian columnist Ramzy Baroud may have never written an article on Kashmir, some of his pieces which appeared on the Kashmir Reader were cited along with several other editorials and news stories as reasons for the ban which was imposed on the newspaper by the Jammu and Kashmir government on October 2.
The government has still not specified the reasons for the ban. “There was nothing specific in the ban order but they had prepared a 20-page dossier. A five-page summary of the dossier was shown briefly and fleetingly to the editor and the owners of the newspaper by top officials. In the glimpse we had, we saw that they had lifted half-a-dozen editorials, their headlines, news stories and articles of American-Palestinian columnist Ramzy Baroud who had never ever mentioned Kashmir in his articles. The general gist of the dossier was that this paper was anti-establishment and anti-state.”
The newspaper operations were banned at the peak of the protests in the state following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani. Even the order of the district magistrate, Srinagar, Farooq Lone, did not specify any reasons for the ban while announcing that it has been lifted. “Kashmir Reader was directed to abstain from printing and publishing under section 144 of the criminal procedure code. That order remains enforceable for two months only and had lapsed on November 30. Since no extension has been ordered by the government, there is no ban on publishing of the newspaper as on date,” it said.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had spoken about the ban being lifted in an interaction with the Kashmir Editors Guild on Tuesday and said she was looking forward to reading the newspaper. Mir said such hypocrisy from her was nothing new.
“In her first meeting with the guild, three or four days after the ban was imposed, she had said that it was unfortunate and if her father (late chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed) would have been alive it would not have happened. Then, one fails to understand, what are these invisible forces that were behind the ban. And there is still no clarity on that,” he pointed out.
Noting that the ban order had only pointed out that it was being imposed on the basis of the ‘inputs of agencies and others’, the editor of Kashmir Reader said hopefully such arbitrary actions would stop now. “I think the Kashmir Editors Guild, during their meeting with the chief minister had made it clear that from now on the government should consult it before filing an FIR or takes any extreme measures against any media organisation. The local media fraternity is also coming together on this and in future it might be difficult for the government to repeat such an action.”
Despite the ban impacting the financial health of the staffers, Mir said no one left. “We have about 30 staffers and all of them stayed with us, (barring a sub-editor who quit for personal reasons) even though we were not able to pay them full salaries during the period.” He sounded confident that the newspaper would be able to turn around its operations now that the ban is gone.
Meanwhile, in its editorial on the first day of resuming operations, Kashmir Reader recalled the circumstances leading to the ban when “Kashmir was witnessing an unprecedented popular uprising against the status quo on the dispute over Kashmir” and how a lot remained “unreported as access of journalists to sites of protest left much to be wanted”.
As for the ban, it said, “it could either mean the administration’s lack of confidence in addressing the cause(s) of such widespread unrest or a failure to muster required political resources for a process of resolution.” But now that the newspaper has hit the stands again, the editorial said, “it is with the hope that the worst is over and the best is yet to come. Let the space for debate, dialogue and accountability come about and be nurtured.”