NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian authorities imposed a communications blackout on Kashmir for a fourth straight day on Thursday, stopping India’s normally vibrant media from being able to report what is happening in the disputed region after the government revoked its special status.
The unprecedented clampdown is prompting criticism from an increasing number of Indian media organizations and senior editors, though some also support the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi - saying the curbs were important for national security.
Editors at newspapers and television stations say that in many cases it has been days since they have heard from their correspondents based in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. They don’t even know whether they are safe.
“There should have been no suspension of communication services for journalists at all,” said Amit Baruah, resident editor of The Hindu newspaper. “There should have been proper arrangements made and journalist passes issued. The press should be allowed to do its job.”
There is virtually no information coming out of most of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.
Journalists who are communicating in some way say they are only able to report from a very small part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, mainly a few blocks in the summer capital Srinigar. If they try and go outside that area they face layer upon layer of security checkpoints at which they are often turned back.
Government officials have defended the clampdown, which has included the detention of at least 300 politicians and activists, as well as the addition of tens of thousands of soldiers in a region that was already one of the most militarized in the world. They say the measures are necessary for the security of the state’s population.
The Hindu, which ran an editorial on Thursday calling for the immediate removal of all curbs on communications and movement in the state, had not been able to contact its staffer in Kashmir since the restrictions were imposed, said Baruah.
“We have had no story from him,” he said.
Temporary shutdowns of the internet by the Indian authorities in small areas for a short period of time are not unusual, especially in Kashmir.
But what has made this one different is the extent of the blackout. It began late on Sunday, was still in place late on Thursday, and involves the snapping of links for cellphones, the internet, landlines, and television in a state that is almost the size of Britain.
Some longtime editors criticized the Indian media for not complaining enough about the communications curbs and for bowing to government pressure to support the Kashmir policy, which removes the state’s rights to frame its own laws and lifts a ban on people from outside the region buying property there.
“Other than two or three media houses, most others have simply abdicated their responsibility of giving a correct and accurate picture of Kashmir and Kashmiris,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, a news portal.
H.K. Dua, a former media advisor to two past Indian prime ministers, said: “Most of the press I find have become very conformist,” adding that “most of the channels look like they are afraid of the government”.
The anchor of a leading news channel told Reuters some government officials had asked the channel to ensure coverage of Kashmir “supported the government”.
“I am extremely distressed by what is happening right now,” the anchor said, declining to be named out of fear of reprisals from the channel’s management.
A government spokesman told Reuters there was no pressure or restrictions on the media over its coverage of Kashmir.
Navika Kumar, managing editor of the Times Now news channel, which has been supportive of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government on the issue, said her channel had not faced much restriction broadcasting from Kashmir and reporters were sending feeds through satellite-linked outside broadcasting vans.
“As far as Times Now is concerned, we have taken a position that removing Article 370 is a welcome step,” she said, referring to the constitutional change. “We are not ambiguous about the stand we take.”
But many people are reluctant to make public comment on the situation in the region - even those based outside Kashmir.
Four major Indian hotel groups declined to comment to Reuters on what was happening to their operations in Kashmir when asked whether they had any guests staying there, were taking bookings or laying off staff.
And a senior journalist at NDTV, Sreenivasan Jain, tweeted on Wednesday: “Tried to get Kashmiri voices @OnReality_Check tonight. This is how it went: Shawl exporter: “I have a lot to say but I am afraid” Journalist: “My family is in Kashmir, will not speak” Filmmaker: “I do not want my name to come anywhere” Academic: “I have family in Kashmir.”
Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson