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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 38 New Delhi September 7, 2019

Press Club allows Press Conference on Kashmir Report but disallows Film/Video

Saturday 7 September 2019

COMMUNICATION

I was present at this amazing, historic Press Conference at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, on August 14, 2019 afternoon, by a team just back from its Kashmir visit from August 9 to 13 with its Report on Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370 on August 5. The team consisted of Jean Drèze, economist, Maimoona Mollah, CPI-M and AIWDA, Kavita Krishnan, CPI-ML (Maale) and Vimal Bhai, Gandhian and NAPM.

While the Press Club of India permitted this Press Conference from its premises, it did not allow use of a projector to show the pictures, audio interviews and video/film which the team had incredibly prepared in such a short time. It was indeed shocking and ironical that the press forum was curbing its own freedom. I was immediately reminded of a similar Press Conference I was part of in October, 1985, when some of us released the Report on ‘Operation Bluestar’ and Oppression in Punjab on behalf of the Citizens for Democracy, a civil rights body. We had also reported on the effects of mlitary occupation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and Punjab in general, but we were able to visit Punjab a clear one year after the entry of armed forces into the Swarn Mandir in June, 1984, after the Army’s withdrawal and restoration of democratic rights.

What was indeed bold and impressive was that this team was able to visit Kashmir a mere four days after the abrogation of Article 370 in Parliament and meet scores of people from all walks of life, students, women, shopkeepers etc. from different communities besides Kashmiris, be the first team to venture out of Srinagar to Sopore, Bandipur, Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama, and the rural areas, take their live audio interviews, photos, make a film despite Section 144 and curfew all over in the presence of about 5 lakh military and para-military forces (about 1 military person to 10 civilians).

The main findings of this team, are:

1. There is enormous anguish and anger in the Kashmir Valley. Every person the team met in Kashmir except the spokesperson of the BJP, referred to the situation in the Valley arising out of the removal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, , as ‘ZULAM” or Oppression and ‘DHOKA’ or Betrayal. The common view was that Article 370 acted as a bridge between India and Kashmir, and with its abrogation, all links and ties have been severed.

2. Kashmir has become an ‘open Jail’. Seven million people are locked in. All of Kashmir including offices, shops, establishments, hotels, schools and colleges, is closed. There is total lack of communication channels of phone, mobile and internet giving the general sense of imprisonment.

3. Hundreds of young boys, even children, have been abducted from villages, their homes or the streets and detained in Police Stations or Army Camps. There are also those whose whereabouts are not known; their total number cannot be specified.

4. Many well-known political persons are under

house arrest and hundreds of political people and youth have been arrested or detained but their numbers and particulars are not known. The figure of 600 such political persons are under some kind of arrest or detention, is what the team has reliably gathered.. Except that it is definite that social activist Professor Hamida Naim, Dr Moonim Shakeel and Advocate Mia Abdul Qayoom are under detention. The team tried to meet the ailing CPI-M leader Yusuf Tarigami, but on reaching his house, they were told he is under house-arrest and cannot be visited.

5. As a result, there is a great sense of fear among the public. People would not speak on camera.

The audio interviews do not show or identify the person speaking.

6. At the same time, the team clarified that the people they met, except the BJP spokesperson, extended a great welcome.to them and showed much warmth and hospitality.

7. The Press is muzzled, no known newspaper from the mainstream Indian media is available. There are a few Kashmiri newspapers with little news but plenty of announcements of marriages being cancelled.

Whereas the Indian TV media is omnipresent with its viewpoint that all is well in Kashmir (which makes the Kashmiris all the more upset and angry because they think, in the words of the team, that “All is Hell”.).

8. Women are angry at Khattar’s derogatory and demeaning remarks about Kashmiri girls; Many of them asserted that patriarchy is a separate issue and they would fight their gender battles independently.

9. The economy of the Kashmir Valley is at a standstill what with curfew, shops and markets closed, no transport, no telecomm-unications, people locked-in at their homes and villages.

10. It is a big lie that Kashmir is not developed, and that Kashmiris are poor, backward and uneducated; the villages are well developed and the younger generation is highly educated, well aware of Kashmir’s history and its relationship with India.

11. The impression the team came back with is that as Kashmiriyat has been attacked, the people of Kashmir, irrespective of religion and community, will not take this betrayal and humiliation lying down and united, they will rise again on the basis of peaceful resistance.

It was a very informative and inspiring Press Conference on Kashmir which was well attended by journalists as well as social activists and students.

Delhi Dr Aurobindo Ghose

August 14, 2019 Human Rights Activist

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