In the series titled The Memory Project, Free Press Kashmir aims to recreate the clampdown through people’s memories and document lived experiences of a people under siege. We also urge our readers to use the hashtag #TheMemoryProject on Twitter, to add to the conversation.
August 5, 2019,
The Muezzin calls for the first prayer of the day. I was too sleepy to open my eyes but somehow managed to glance at my cell phone.
‘No Service’ it shows on a left corner where you usually find signal towers in full.
“This is it. They are doing it,” I told myself.
But still trying to figure out – Doing what?
Even though abrogating Article 35A and 370, trifurcation of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh were two among many speculations that were making rounds in the city for the past one week, no one was certain.
With the administration snapping internet and Cable TV connection late that night, no one had any information about what was happening, or had happened.
Not even journalists.
I left for my office which is in the Press Enclave in Srinagar city’s Lal chowk, some 5 km from my home in downtown.
I was hoping that in the office, I would al least have access to TV, or the internet, to get some information that I was desperately looking for.
The roads wore a deserted look. Concertina wires were spread across the streets. Unprecedented deployment of the armed forces was the only feature visible.
I was stopped at least six times before I reached my destination.
To overcome my anxiety, at one of the checkpoints, I even dared to ask the reason for the extraordinary restrictions from the armed forces personnel on duty.
“You people (press) know everything, why are you asking me,” was the reply I got in a very harsh tone.
There is a common notion among people that Journalists know everything, which of course is not the case all the time.
As I stepped into the sub-editors’ room, there was already a cluster. A couple of editors and people from the management section were engaged in a discussion.
“What happened,” I asked, without asking what was the discussion all about.
“It is gone. Article 370 has been abrogated. State divided into two Union Territories,” one of my editors replied.
However, the current discussion was not entirely about the Government of India’s (GoI) decision to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting was more about how to report the biggest news of our careers as journalists.
The administration had cut off all communication lines to newspaper offices. Even the landline telephones were not working.
As journalists, we had never felt as helpless. None of us knew what was going on across Kashmir.
We didn’t know what the state administration was doing. We had no knowledge of the Rajya Sabha proceedings that were taking place in New Delhi to pass the Reorganisation bill that would decide the future of Kashmiris.
We were blank. And desperate.
“We have to print the newspaper, no matter what. We can’t miss this event. It is historic,” my associate editor said.
But the question was, How?
How can a newspaper function without content?
Reporters who had managed to reach the office, despite a strict curfew, were handicapped without any access to information.
Sitting idle for almost four hours at our desks, the chances to publish the newspaper was getting bleaker.
But then, one of our colleagues came to know, that satellite TV was working and all news channels were airing Rajya Sabha proceedings live.
Now, the task was to find one such connection. And after struggling for an hour or so, we finally landed in a nearby hotel to have the first glimpses of the day’s events.
“Scrapping of Article 370 will lead to growth and development in the newly created UTs,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah was speaking on the floor of the House.
“We have our lead,” one of the sub-editors said with mixed emotions.
And then things started to roll. The news channels became our eyes and ears.
Reporters who usually file stories from ground zero were sitting in front of a television set, that too a borrowed one, to file their stories.
Tickers running on the news channels gave us the idea about things that were unfolding all day long.
‘GoI revoke Art 370 through Presidential order’ was our lead story.
‘Govt asks people to observe calm‘. Second lead.
‘Clampdown in Kashmir’, third lead…
Finally, our front page was ready.
Running a newspaper in a conflict-torn region like Kashmir is not an easy task. Over the years, Journalism in Kashmir has been a victim between two extreme narratives of New Delhi and Islamabad.
In 2016, after the militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing, that resulted in a six-month-long agitation, one of the leading English dailies, Kashmir Reader, was completely banned, without any prior notification by the then Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government.
Earlier, in the year the state administration had banned government advertisements to the largest circulated English newspaper Greater Kashmir. Compelling its owner to lay off some of his staff.
The employees who were retained had no option but to work at a 50 percent salary.
Journalism has never been easy in Kashmir. Journalists have often been at the receiving end here. But the current situation was unprecedented. Even in the 1990s, when Kashmir’s political condition was at its worst, my seniors often told me that, journalists were allowed to work freely.
In July 2018, the assassination of senior Kashmiri journalist, Shujaat Bukhari outside his office had sent shock-waves across Jammu and Kashmir.
His killing in broad daylight was a clear message to journalists, that objective journalism has no space.
Meanwhile, after the day’s struggle and the relentless effort by our team, we managed to publish a four-page issue the next day.
But not every newspaper was able to cover the watershed moment in Kashmir’s political history.
Out of around 55 dailies in Kashmir, only four newspapers, English dailies Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir, and Urdu newspapers Tamleel-Irshad and Aftab, managed to hit the stands on August 6.
“The Day that Wasn’t,” would be the headline if I ever write a firsthand account of this day, I thought to myself while riding my motorcycle on my way back home that night.
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