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Evictions, Notices: How Kashmir Press Colony Is Slowly Crumbling

In just 13 months, the J&K administration has shut down the offices of two dailies at Kashmir’s Press Colony.

Published
India
7 min read
Evictions, Notices: How Kashmir Press Colony Is Slowly Crumbling
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Within a span of 13 months, the Jammu and Kashmir government has shut down the offices of two prominent English dailies at Kashmir’s Press Colony located in Srinagar. The Press Enclave is home to a majority of Kashmir media houses – a second home for any journalist working in the Valley.

On October 19 last year, the J&K government sealed the Srinagar office of Kashmir Times, one of the oldest English dailies in the region. A year later, the editor of Greater Kashmir, one of the largest circulated English daily newspapers, was asked to vacate the Press Colony office after three decades.

The Srinagar office of Kashmir Times was functioning in a government accommodation since 1993-94, while The Greater Kashmir was functioning from the Srinagar office since 1990.

Kashmir Times executive editor, Anuradha Bhasin, said the officials from the Estate Department came to the office without any notice, asked its staffers to leave the building, and ultimately padlocked the office.

“I remember it was a working office and the government officials did not even give us a minute and sealed our office. Since then, we have not been able to publish our Srinagar edition. All the employees working with Srinagar edition turned jobless.”
Anuradha Bhasin, Kashmir Times

The government, however, served an eviction notice to Greater Kashmir Editor-in-chief Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo only a day after the families of two persons killed in “Hyderpora encounter” staged a sit-in protest in the Press Enclave, also known as Mushtaq Press Enclave.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The office of Kashmir Times</p></div>

The office of Kashmir Times

(Photo: Mubashir Khan)

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'Computers, Printers Were Seized'

At a time when the protest made headlines all over the world, the Estate Department of the Jammu & Kashmir government made Greater Kashmir vacate the building.

A day after receiving the notice, a load carrier was set outside the Greater Kashmir office. The furniture, documents, computers, printers were loaded onto the vehicle and dispatched to its corporate office in Rangreth Budgam.

These days, the editorial staff of Greater Kashmir, as well as its sister publication Kashmir Uzma, are operating from the Rangreth office located inside an industrial estate in Budgam district of central Kashmir.

An employee working with Greater Kashmir said that except the employees of the advertising department, all staffers are functioning from Rangreth office.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The office of Greater Kashmir.</p></div>

The office of Greater Kashmir.

(Photo: Mubashir Khan)

Greater Kashmir has been in tough waters since 2018, when its advertisements were stopped without any specific official reason and summons were subsequently issued to its editor by the National Investigation Agency. The newspaper’s office was also raided by the NIA last year in connection with an alleged case of terror funding.

“The Greater Kashmir has received a proper eviction notice from the government but we did not get any notice as such. The officials came and asked our staffers to vacate the office. The computers, printers and other equipment were seized. When we knocked on the doors of the court the officials padlocked the office,” said Bhasin, adding that the matter is pending in the court.

The properties were allotted to both newspapers by the J&K government under the “journalist quota” during the 1990s.

The New Media Policy Has Worsened Things

Bhasin has been a vocal critic of the government. In August 2019, after the abrogation of Article 370, she moved the Supreme Court and sought the lifting of the communication blockade that was hampering the publication of newspapers in the region. Her petition was vital in getting the top court to push the government to relax curbs on communication and be transparent about restriction orders in Jammu & Kashmir.

Journalists in Kashmir said that the Press Colony has remained a central place where people from all walks of life including government employees would assemble and lodge protests. In order to get media coverage, anyone holding a grievance, concern and demands would reach the Press Colony to register a protest.

For the journalists of Kashmir, the Press Colony has remained a go-to place, but since the offices of two famous English dailies and senior journalists have been evicted, the charm of the press colony is slowly fading.

The eviction of media houses from Srinagar’s press colony has risen after the government unveiled a new media policy in 2020, months after the Union government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into two union territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

In February this year, the government had asked former BBC correspondent Yousuf Jameel to vacate his office from the press colony.

Veteran journalist Jameel Shah, who uses the nom de plume Yusuf Jameel, has been working in the Press Colony since 1989. He said:

“I had never imagined the day would come when I would be evicted from the Press Colony. I have an emotional attachment with the place where I lost my brother and colleague, Mushtaq Ali."
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'They Knew I Didn't Have a House'

After 30 years, senior journalist Altaf Hussain was given a 24-hour deadline to vacate his office-cum-residential space inside the press colony. He says:

“In March this year, an official of the Estate Department verbally conveyed that I had 24 hours to vacate my residence-cum-office in the Press Enclave. They knew I didn't have a house of my own anywhere. But that didn't matter to them. Instead, the police paramilitaries were posted in the Enclave who questioned my relatives, including women, visiting my family. It was a message that I should leave without any delay. I don't mind being asked to leave, but they did it in a ruthless and shabby manner."

Hussain said he and his family took heart from the emotional response of people in the neighbourhood who thronged his house, almost all crying.

Hussain, who worked with the Times of India and BBC, attributed the eviction of mediapersons from the press enclave to the government's anti-media policy. “It is not just the press colony. At least three prominent journalists were ordered to vacate their government accommodation outside the press enclave. The government is doing it only to punish journalists for their objective journalism.”

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Civilians at the Srinagar Press Enclave.&nbsp;</p></div>

Civilians at the Srinagar Press Enclave. 

(Photo: Mubashir Khan)

Currently working as a freelance journalist, Hussain has been living in a rented house ever since he was thrown out of the Press Enclave. “I have realised what it means to be suddenly rendered homeless. Yet, I have no regrets because I know honesty and integrity come at a price. I have paid a small price, some of our colleagues have paid with their lives.”

According to Hussain, most of the Kashmiri journalists have done journalism proud. “Mind you, Kashmiri journalists have reported their own conflict and yet they have never let go of their objectivity. This is a huge achievement.”

The government, many say, wants to disintegrate media houses and newspapers. It is another attempt at muzzling the press in the region, he says.

'Assault on Media Continues'

Another senior journalist, who has spent 15 years at the Press Colony, said, “The press has been openly highlighting everything, mainly what has been falling upon people. Also, people, instead of holding their demonstrations outside the civil secretariat or divisional commissioner’s office, have been protesting inside the press enclave. In order to target the press and muzzle the voices of the common man, the government has now started to evict newspaper offices from the press colony. The demolition is agonising for senior journalists who have long memories associated with the historical place.”

Shortly after the Greater Kashmir office was evicted, Bashir Manzar, who is editor at The Kashmir Images, tweeted: “I wonder what Press Council of India's "fact-finding team" has found in Kashmir. Advertisements have been stopped to newspapers (Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Life and Kashmir Images); newspaper offices have been evicted (Greater Kashmir). @PressCouncil_IN.”

Kashmir-based author and journalist Gowhar Geelani said the saffron party uses various institutions to distort, contain and kill the Kashmir story.

“It weaves new narratives based on its own understanding of history and civilization. It understands the power of the media. The one who controls the media controls the narrative. It is often the powerful who control the narrative. That is why the assault on the media continues in various forms.”
Gowhar Geelani, author and journalist

Geelani added that expectedly, India’s global standing as a parliamentary democracy came under question while its rankings in global press freedom and global hunger indexes crashed down. “The decline has been gradual. An international analysis rated India as only ‘partly free’; while another said that India was now an ‘electoral autocracy’.”

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The Perils of Working in a Conflict Zone

Both Hussain and his former colleagues rued that Kashmiri journalists work in a conflict zone, where they have to walk on a razor’s edge, keeping a distance from the government as well as militants, often facing the wrath of both state and non-state actors. For instance, during the past three decades, three journalists have been killed inside the Press Enclave.

Jameel’s colleague and friend Mushtaq Ali, a photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was killed when a ‘parcel bomb’ exploded in his hands inside the Press Enclave on 7 September 1995. The press enclave is named after Ali as a small tribute to the slain photojournalist.

In the year 2003, Parvaiz Mohammed Sultan (36), editor of the independent newswire service News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), a local news gathering agency, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman inside the Press Enclave.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>The office of Rising Kashmir.&nbsp;</p></div>

The office of Rising Kashmir. 

(Photo: Mubashir Khan)

In June 2018, senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari, chief editor of the daily Rising Kashmir, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his office in the Press Enclave.

(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik. This is an analysis piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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