Srinagar: Last Sunday night, after covering a couple of impromptu press conferences, I was heading to my office in Srinagar’s Mushtaq Press Enclave, but instead drove home in another city area after a journalist friend called up on my mobile to say that indefinite curfew was being clamped on Srinagar and the media would not be issued any curfew passes.
When I insisted on being allowed to proceed towards the City Centre, he asked if I had a curfew pass. I tried to convince him by pleading that as per the official announcement, curfew had not been clamped on Srinagar but only security restrictions were in force.
“Don’t try to be oversmart. Do you know better than we do?” he retorted.
Later during that day, as Union home minister Amit Shah moved a resolution in Parliament abrogating the special status of J&K under Article 370 and a Bill to split the state into two Union territories, the news was received with shock and dismay by the people and politicians alike in the Valley, parts of Jammu and Kargil.
The communications blockade, meanwhile, which has entered its sixth day on Saturday, has created chaos in the Kashmir Valley.
Like most other journalists, I too was unable to file any stories to my newspapers since Monday. In fact, newsgathering has become unfeasible in view of the complete information blackout. With the withdrawal of all means of communications and curbs on our movement, we have been made totally ineffective as reporters. I am sitting at home and all I could see during these days are pitched battles fought at intervals between stone-pelting mobs and uniformed men at a distance from where we are staying.
Media people in Kashmir have been working on razor’s edge ever since the separatist campaign erupted into major violence in 1989-90. Every day has been struggle for them. In fact, it has proved to be a “bloodletting beat” as 18 journalists and other mediapersons have fallen prey to violence — some of them were killed by militants and some by the security forces or unknown assailants, and others died in bomb explosions or shooting incidents.
While reporting on the unending conflict and the bloody mayhem that have only ruined the otherwise enchanting Vale, media people have endured undeclared censorship, imprisonment, attempts on their lives, or the assassination of a close colleague or a family member as a result of their efforts to report on the government, the security forces and militants candidly. I myself survived half a dozen assassination attempts and, in one of these, I lost my friend and colleague, cameraman Mushtaq Ali. I also endured kidnapping and incarceration. But nothing had stopped me from reporting on and from Kashmir.
It is for the first time since I became a journalist some 35 years ago that I have been caged in such a fashion and rendered ineffective as a reporter. All avenues through which I could reach out to my readers have been clogged up. I have been kicking my heels for the past six days, waiting for the authorities to ease the communications shutdown. All through, we members of the Kashmir press corps have just wasted our breath on them.
(This is a first person account by this newspaper’s Kashmir correspondent filed through a friend travelling to New Delhi)