Kashmiri journalists stage protest against "media gag"
Journalists in Indian Kashmir on Thursday staged a small silent protest against what they say has been a "media gag" by Indian authorities that has badly affected their ability to work in the disputed region for the last 60 days.
India stripped its portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir of autonomy on 5 August, shutting off phone networks and imposing curfew-like restrictions in some areas to dampen discontent.
Some of those curbs have been slowly relaxed, but mobile and internet communications in the Kashmir valley are largely still blocked, severely impacting the ability of journalists to report from the region.
Barricades and books in restive Kashmir neighbourhood
Anchar, a densely-populated, working-class area of Srinagar, is a pocket of resistance to India's revocation in early August of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. By Danish Siddiqui
Few people step outside Anchar, a neighbourhood ringed by steel barricades and razor wire in Indian Kashmir, where police have imposed a weeks-long region-wide clampdown to stifle protests
As night falls, groups of youths, many wearing masks and armed with stones and tree branches, are huddled around bonfires, sipping tea provided by neighbours. "I am spending the night outdoors so I can protect my family," said Fazil, a 16-year-old student. "There is no fear in me," he added, holding a thick tree branch as he watched the street from a checkpoint
Worshippers gathered in the mosque in Anchar for Friday prayers listen intently to Hayat Ahmed Bhat, a Kashmiri activist, prior to a street demonstration
Seven weeks since the clampdown and a degree of normalcy has returned. Telephone landlines are working again, though mobile and Internet networks remain suspended. Shops open briefly to allow people to restock supplies and traffic is back on Srinagar's streets. In Anchar, however, the situation remains tense
The neighbourhood is a no-go zone for security forces. Entrances to the area are guarded by young people manning barricades made of tree trunks, electricity poles and barbed wire to keep the police out. Laneways have been dug up to block security vehicles
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said Kashmir's special status, which allowed only residents to buy property and hold government jobs, restricted its development and encouraged a separatist revolt that has killed 40,000 people since 1989. Indian authorities have arrested nearly 4,000 people since the decision
With government services like schools still shut in Anchar, four college students have set up a makeshift school, giving lessons to 200 children for a few hours each day. "The education of students in this locality is suffering because of the turmoil. We won't let our future generations suffer," said Adil, a college student turned teacher
"Bullets and pellets every day": Anchar's female residents has also taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the revocation of Kashmir's special status and the clampdown by Prime Minister Modi and his ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party
Rubina's 15-year-old son was injured by pellets fired by security forces while he was returning home from Friday prayers. The boy's head is heavily bandaged and he hasn't spoken since the incident, but the family would rather treat him at home than take him to a city hospital, fearing he could be detained by police
"If he has to go out for a change of bandage to the nearby government hospital, he will be accompanied by six or seven women, so they don't snatch him away," Rubina said
More than seven weeks after the crackdown began, there is little sign of an end to the stand-off in this neighbourhood, home to some 15,000 people
Carrying placards and wearing black badges, more than 100 Kashmiri journalists gathered inside the Kashmir Press Club premises in Srinagar to stage a protest, as street protests are still restricted.
"End information clampdown", "Stop criminalising journalists", "Journalism is not a crime", read placards held up during the silent protest.
The Indian government has provided an Internet connection at a media centre set up for journalists, but reporters say this is insufficient and it lacks privacy.
"There's no privacy. Some 300 journalists use that facility daily and it is crowded. It is also being monitored and we are under surveillance," said Ishfaq Tantray, general secretary of the Kashmir Press Club.
A government spokesman in Kashmir was not immediately reachable for comment.
The president of the Kashmir Press Club, Shuja Thakur said that they had several times approached the Indian government in Kashmir for restoration of mobile and Internet services for journalists.
"They keep promising and say they are looking into it, but so far there has been no action," he said.
New Delhi said the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir state's special status was necessary to integrate it fully into the rest of India and spur development.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, who both claim the territory in full. More than 40,000 people have been killed in an insurgency in the Indian part of Kashmir since 1989.
Separately on Thursday, local media reported that opposition leaders in Jammu - where restrictions have already been eased to a greater extent - were after almost two months allowed to move out of their homes on Wednesday and resume their political activities.
The lifting of restrictions on movement of around a dozen top opposition leaders in Jammu comes ahead of local council elections in the state that are scheduled for 24 October, the Indian Express reported. (Reuters)