New Delhi: Srinagar-based local English daily ‘Kashmir Reader’ hit the stands on Wednesday nearly three months after Jammu and Kashmir state government in a surprising move ordered an indefinite ban on the publication of the newspaper.
“It feels like freedom,” Hilal Mir, the editor of the Kashmir Reader told ScoopWhoop News.
On the evening of October 2 – the Gandhi Jayanti – a group of J&K police personnel had walked into the office of the newspaper in Srinagar and handed over the ban order to the editor. According to the order issued by District Magistrate Srinagar, the government had “credible inputs” that the “content” published in the newspaper could “incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility.”
For Mir, the ban had completely changed his day’s routine. With no copies to edit or assign any stories to his reporters, Mir spent his day meeting friends, reading and waiting for a word on the end of ban. The schedule also entailed participation in protests with fellow journalists and editors to demand revocation of the ban.
“We kept visiting office and inviting all the staff members for the meeting. It was to keep up the morale of the staff,” Mir, who has previously worked with Kashmir’s English daily Greater Kashmir and Hindustan Times, said.
According to Mir, the ban on the newspaper was part of the state’s crackdown to stifle dissent and criticism.
“The ban was arbitrary. There’s no peace in Kashmir but repression. Banning a newspaper was part of that. It actually speaks volumes about the state’s idea of ‘peace’. In a way, lifting the ban has indicted the state itself,” Mir said.
Mir also lauded the unflinching support offered by the newspaper’s administration to sustain the period of ban. Despite ban, all the 30 employees including managerial staff, reporters and sub-editors were given half of their salaries.
“Only one staff member left the organization and it was due to a personal reason,” Mir added.
Known for its exclusive reportage and incisive commentary, ‘Kashmir Reader’ quickly made it to the list of top English dailies being published from the valley in just six years of its inception.
Following the unrest in the aftermath of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing, nearly 100 civilians were shot dead by government forces and thousands injured after the forces fired live ammunition and shot-gun pellets on the protesters. Everyday, the newspaper carried dozens of reports, hard-hitting editorials and sharp opinion pieces on the brazen state violence against the civilians – a characteristic, which many believe as the reason for its ban.
Under ban, the police also arrested one of the trainee reporters of the newspaper on December 4 for reporting how CRPF and Police officials had burnt the rice crop of villagers in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
In its defence, the newspaper had termed the ban “arbitrary” and stated that the government hadn’t sent a prior warnings or pointed out a particular report published in the newspaper to substantiate its allegations.
On Tuesday, when the newspaper received a formal order to resume publication, the newspaper’s staff was jubilant and excited.
28-year-old Moazum Mohammad, bureau chief of the newspaper, said he was “excited” after the they received the formal revocation order.
“The uncertainty brought by the ban had left us in a dilemma. In a sense, I had lost my identity. A journalist is recognized by his name in the newspaper. When he looses that platform, he becomes a stranger. Then even the sources don’t talk to you,” Mohammad told ScoopWhoop News.
Mohammad said he’s currently trying to restore his communication with his sources.
While the inability to write a story stayed, the reporter in Mohammad didn’t let him rest. He took to freelancing to which Mohammad was new. In fact, it was Mohammad who broke the story of J&K government’s decision of giving compensation to the slain brother of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in a Delhi-based online news portal.
Editor Mir says the newspaper will try to report what it was unable to report due to ban.
His statement clearly reflected in the footnote of a feature report about a 9-year-old pellet victim published in the newspaper on Wednesday.
“This story, like many others, was to be published on October 3, 2016 but couldn’t bring it to our readers because of the government ban. These stories, we believe, are as relevant today as they were when they occurred,” the note read.