Ever since the Indian government announced the abrogation of Article 370 on Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories, the valley has been under a complete lockdown. All communication lines have remained shut and a large swathe of Srinagar has become a no-go area for others including journalists on the ground. But for pro-government TV channels and their functionaries such as Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami, Kashmir has been an oasis of peace despite the draconian measures taken by the government.
Goswami ran a series of prime time TV debates in the immediate aftermath of the government’s announcement revoking Article 370 attacking anyone, who said that the situation in Kashmir was not peaceful. He targeted foreign news agencies such as the BBC, Aljazeera and Reuters after they ran a video of unrest in Srinagar’s downtown area and the subsequent police firing. The BBC’s report on protests by Kashmiris in Soura had caused quite an embarrassment to the central government.
Days later, activist Kavita Krishnan held a press conference sharing the experience of her visit to Srinagar. Her account too appeared to corroborate what most foreign news agencies were reporting. She was, however, not allowed to play the video footage that she claimed to have collected during her stay in Srinagar by the Press Club authorities in Delhi. Goswami too slammed her, calling her a member of the ‘negativity gang,’ whose only motive, according to him, was to portray India into poor light. Goswami even yelled at one of his guests claiming that he was in a better position to speak about the situation in Kashmir since five of his reporters were reporting from the ground in Srinagar.
However, as I witnessed during my trip to Srinagar last week, Goswami’s own reporters may like to disagree with him. On 18 August, when I arrived in Srinagar, most of my fellow passengers were those returning from Mecca after performing their annual pilgrimage of Hajj. They were greeted by their loved ones outside the airport. Since they had not been able to speak to each other for nearly a fortnight, their reunion outside the airport soon became understandably emotional.
My driver later informed me that there was commotion outside the airport in the morning as the angry crowd nearly beat up a TV crew. When I reached the make-shift media centre at Hotel Sarovar Portico in Srinagar, some of my known reporters from Delhi, working for various Hindi and English channels, confirmed that the TV crew that faced the wrath of an angry crowd outside the Srinagar airport in the morning of the 18 August was from Republic TV.
According to one reporter, this Republic TV representative wanted to film the emotional reunion of Hajis with their loved ones. But soon after the crowd saw the Republic TV’s logo, they charged at the crew menacingly. The crew in question had to make a hasty retreat before they were attacked.
The same evening, three government officials arrived at the media centre to address the media. They included Rohit Kansal, Principal Secretary to the government of Jammu and Kashmir, Shahid Chaudhary, Srinagar’s District Commissioner and Sehrish Asgar, Director of Information with the Jammu and Kashmir government (See photo below).
I had only arrived in the morning and was already getting restless because of the complete ban on phones and the internet. Most of the 100-plus reporters in the room had been stationed in Srinagar ever since the crisis started on 5 August. It was evident that even their patience was running thin. No sooner did the press conference start, a Republic TV representative desperately nudged a reporter her rival English channel requesting him to ask Kansal and his team to consider making arrangements for special wifi access for journalists present at the media centre. The frustration of having to work without access to any communication means was visible on her face. I couldn’t quite understand why she could not ask the question directly instead of requesting a reporter from a rival channel to do the same on her behalf. As expected, he bluntly told the Republic TV representative to ask her question directly. She didn’t.
The same day, I was informed that two journalists working for a Hindi TV channel had to face the brunt of angry Kashmiris as they attempted to visit the troubled areas of downtown Srinagar. One of them, said one reporter, was spat on while another had stones pelted at his car. Thankfully, both escaped unhurt.
The anger against journalists in the valley was summed up by one Riaz, who I spoke to on the day the government opened the primary schools after a fortnight of the shutdown. In his words, ‘media has hurt us more than the government.’ (Watch the video above)
Journalists given access to troubled areas are those flying the flag for the government agenda and they are given a ‘tour’ of the areas in armoured vehicles with full security cover. This is primarily to allow them to portray a favourable picture for the government, which is not necessarily a true representation of reality. Independent journalists such as yours truly are not even allowed to click a photo with CRPF men around.
As I reported in my earlier despatch from Srinagar, there were just four computers with slow-speed internet connection for the use of over 100-odd journalists. The government had also made the arrangement for one functioning mobile phone for reporters to speak to their colleagues in headquarters or loved ones. But the queue to avail both these services was often very long.
That evening, as I wrote earlier, I was prevented from entering the downtown area of Srinagar by members of the CRPF with at least three of them almost succeeding in having a photo deleted from my mobile phone.
- Kashmir Diary by Rifat Jawaid Part 1: “It’s a living hell in Kashmir”
- Kashmir Diary by Rifat Jawaid Part 2: “The story of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir, Rifat Jawaid reports from Srinagar”
- Kashmir Diary by Rifat Jawaid Part 3: “Indian government has just turned the entire Kashmiri population into unguided missiles”