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Kashmiri journalists face tough battle as they see their life's work erased

Kashmiri journalists face tough battle as they see their life's work erased
Experts say erasure of journalistic work from Kashmiri newspaper websites is hitting journalists, media researchers hard

By Nusrat Sidiq

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – In 2019, when the Indian government scrapped the limited autonomy of the Jammu and Kashmir region, Ishfaq Reshi, a local journalist, was surprised to see all his work "missing" on the internet.

Reshi was among dozens of journalists in Kashmir who were asked "not to work" after the revocation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution guaranteeing certain autonomy to the region and also rights over land, jobs and property to the native peoples.

As Jan. 10 marks Working Journalists' Day, Anadolu Agency looks into how the erasure of journalistic work from Kashmiri newspaper websites is affecting journalists and media researchers.

"Soon after Aug. 5, 2019 happened, I was asked not to work until the situation returns to normal, and while I was sitting idle at home, I thought about applying for further studies abroad and work," Reshi told Anadolu Agency.

*In late December 2019, Reshi applied for an overseas journalistic fellowship but was asked to send links to his previous journalistic work.

"When I tried to search for the work I did for these years, I found nothing on the internet. Even when I searched for my name on the newspaper's website, it was as if I had not existed at all, as if I had never worked there," he said.

"I failed to prove my work and experience as a journalist."

In April 2016, Reshi began working as an intern reporter at a local daily in the region, Kashmir Reader, which began operating in 2012. He was soon appointed as a full-time reporter at the newspaper and held the position until the revocation of the region's limited autonomy.

- Scary

Gowhar Geelani, a senior journalist in the region, describes the state of journalism there as "scary" and tough for the scribes doing their professional work.

In a recent example, Sajad Gul, a budding journalist and student, was arrested for uploading his work that he filmed after a militant killing. He was accused by the police of spreading disinformation and provoking people.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Geelani said that since the 2008 uprising took place, journalists in the region have become soft targets of intimidation and threats purely on the basis of their reporting.

However, he added that after the revocation took place, the level of risk for journalists working in the region increased manifold.

"Now we are at that point of time where we have erased all the memories, work of the past happenings that journalists reported," Geelani said.

Many journalists in the region say that the publications have deliberately erased their work following what they believe to be mounting pressure from the Indian government to limit coverage critical of its actions.

Reshi said that initially he thought there was a technical issue with the newspaper's website and tried to ask a few friends for help but later found that the problem persists with everyone.

"I was helpless and couldn't find anything, despite trying until this date," he said.

Anadolu Agency tried to get the views of the owners of the publications on the issue but most of them denied having deliberately erased the past work, while some of them did not want to speak on the matter.

"It is a technical issue and we are working to restore it," said one of the owners, who wished to be anonymous.

- 404 error

Shireen Hamdani, a researcher in the region, while doing field work and collecting data for her studies last year found herself caught in a very depressing situation after she was not able to access newspaper articles online which were important for her studies.

"It showed a 404 error and nothing else," Hamdani said.

In these times of COVID-19, when the whole world has shifted to online work, Hamdani said she had to go out to access hard copies of newspapers at the information department in the region despite risking her health due to COVID-19 pandemic.

"I could have easily read the articles related to my studies online, but they were not available. Then I tried to seek PDFs of the articles from the publications, but they too were missing," she said.

A media professor told Anadolu Agency anonymously that there is a saying that "journalism is the first draft of history," but when that part of the draft is erased, it becomes really difficult for researchers to explain what happened in that era.

Hamdani said that researchers often consult newspaper archives for research projects or to write books, but when there is nothing available, a piece of history is lost.

"Future generations are deprived of knowing the facts of the past," she said.

Geelani, meanwhile, said the future of hundreds of journalism students looks bleak in the region if this set of circumstances continues.

"I am really distressed to see these young graduates who move out from colleges and universities with a hope of doing journalism which for now is 'criminalized.'"

source: News Feed
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