Media gag in Valley, back to Emergency

Media gag in Valley, back to Emergency

Kashmir Valley has been pushed into an information black hole in a most anti-democratic and unwise exercise of arbitrary powers by the government. The state government took drastic action in the last few days to gag all media – conventional, non-conventional and social – to cut off the Valley from the world and from itself and to prevent it from being presented to the outside world. It could not have taken the action without the concurrence of the Central government. It is a virtual throwback to the Emergency days whose horrors were thought to have been buried decades ago. The comprehensive ban on news and blocking of information channels in Kashmir was the worst assault on the citizens’ basic right to know and freedom of expression since those shameful days. These rights are the same for Kashmir as for the rest of India, and the attack on them should be condemned and opposed by everyone. What is at stake in Kashmir is and will be at stake elsewhere.

The methods of enforcement of the gag orders were reminders of the actions of the worst authoritarian regimes. Mobile internet and broadband services had already been disconnected. The police raided newspaper offices and printing presses, seized newspapers and printing material and detained staff after days of resorting to methods like blocking news, denying curfew passes, physically threatening journalists and otherwise obstructing collection and dissemination of news. The government now does not take responsibility for its actions and has denied there was any gagging. But a minister had clearly fo-und fault with “certain projections” of newspapers. Kashmir is witnessing a high tide of public anger, defiance and protests after a militant was killed by the security forces some days ago. The government is responsible for mismanaging and aggravating the situation. It cannot obliterate the message and shoot the messenger for its own failure.

When legitimate channels of news are blocked, wrong news and rumours spread, causing more damage, further aggravating the situation. Authoritarian governments do not learn this simple truth. Free media provides the best insurance against untruth and wrong propaganda, and no government wins a propaganda war after gagging the media. The government only loses its credibility, violates its obligations to the people and its commitment to uphold the Constitution when it curbs freedom of expression. The world’s largest democracy cannot deny the most basic of freedoms to its people, and continue to claim to be democratic. Even its claims in Kashmir will be questioned if it denies such rights to the people. The government must apologise for the grievous mistake it made and ensure that it will not be repeated.

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