"On condition of anonymity"
"There is an atmosphere of fear. When the top political leaders including three former Chief Ministers have been booked under PSA, what will be the fate of an ordinary person?" asked a prominent political analyst of the Valley on condition of anonymity.
One midnight last month, a police vehicle pulled up near a journalist's house at an idyllic village in Kashmir. The policemen got off the vehicle and smashed through the front gate of the decrepit house. Soon they emerged with the scribe and drove with him straight to a police station.
After a few hours of intense grilling, the journalist was let off. While recounting his ordeal, the journalist didn’t want to be identified in this report.
In October last year, a young political activist from south Kashmir, who was released from preventive detention after nearly three months, narrated a sordid tale of insult and humiliation at the hands of the police during his detention. The activist also pleaded for anonymity. Similarly, a 34-year-old man, who was tortured by a group of soldiers inside his house last September, also wanted to keep his identity under wraps.
The fear of reprisal drove them to seek anonymity in newspaper reports and articles ever since the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir since August 5 last year.
Academics, columnists, political observers, and leaders in the Valley are generally very wary of expressing their views. The few who speak up do not speak out on the situation in the Valley.
"There is an atmosphere of fear. When the top political leaders including three former Chief Ministers have been booked under PSA, what will be the fate of an ordinary person?" asked a prominent political analyst of the Valley on condition of anonymity. He said the sense of censorship was insidious. "It (censorship) is in the selection of words or in expressing the fullness of truth."
Television Debates, Politics, and Newspapers
Television debates in Kashmir have dwindled post-August 5. Kashmiri debaters and commentators are disinclined to appear on live television shows. Fear of consequences holds them back from taking part in such debates. As many as 10 commentators, who earlier appeared frequently on news shows presented by mostly bellicose anchors have faded into oblivion. “One has to speak the truth and be balanced, particularly when you are commenting on sensitive issues like Kashmir, but under the current circumstances it means belling the cat", said a Srinagar-based television commentator, declining to be named in this report.
Politicians from the pro-India opposition political parties also refrain from expressing their views freely. Their reactions and responses to day to day political happenings are guarded and limited. Even some of the more vocal and shrill political leaders have fallen silent.
On the recently deferred panchayat polls, individual political leaders have either avoided any reaction or reacted on condition of anonymity. After August 5, hundreds of political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers, have been incarcerated. Some of them were later released after they were prodded into signing bonds to the effect that they would not indulge in any political activity. Fear is rampant in the rank and file of the political parties. The political landscape in Jammu and Kashmir has been deprived of its vibrancy. There is barely any political activity in evidence on the ground. "Issuing a few small statements to newspapers is all that the opposition political parties have been doing here since the government scrapped the special position of Jammu and Kashmir. Most of the political leaders are mute on important regional and national developments", said G M Mizrab, regional secretary of the CPI.
He added that there were hardly any forceful reactions from the main opposition parties on important political developments like NRC.
The malfunction of the rule of law and the inability of judicial institutions to take a call on important matters relating to Kashmir have unleashed a sense of fear and insecurity among the local populace. Legal experts believe that the inordinate delay in the delivery of justice has also made people feel that the judiciary is not coming to their rescue, and this ultimately makes them fear for their lives.
“The government is not implementing the law in its true spirit. People are booked for trivial issues and then it takes them years to prove their innocence”, said senior lawyer Syed Riyaz Khawar.
When the publication of newspapers, suspended for a few days after August 5, was resumed, they did not initially carry editorials and opinions. Although a few months later they began appearing in the designated centre pages of newspapers, they are still written on apolitical subjects.
The weekly and fortnightly political pieces written by prominent local columnists have altogether vanished from the popular English broadsheets. Some of the widely read political pieces like Wide Angle, Right Hand, Inksight, and Musings have been missing since August 5. Some of of the senior editors this reporter reached out to refused to comment on this.
Pre-eminent political analyst Professor Noor Mohammad Baba said that newspapers had become less political nowadays; they did not publish anything that can be seen as critical of the government. "There is much fear in the Valley. People speak with caution. Even I am cautious in what I say”, Baba added.
Baba was the only political observer among those this reporter interviewed who did not decline to be named. “I don’t have a problem. I am an old man now", quipped Baba, when asked if he minded being quoted.