Last week Kashmir’s limited autonomy was revoked by India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The decision is probably the most politically significant event Kashmir has seen in decades and marks the deterioration of the longstanding relationship between the predominantly Hindu nation and its only Muslim-majority semiautonomous state.
Aware of the possible violent reaction to an extremely unpopular move, the Indian government sent reinforcements to its military contingents based in Kashmir. It then shut down the internet, mobile phone services, and landlines, effectively isolating the 8 million residents of the Kashmir Valley from the rest of the world.
Television channels were allowed to broadcast the news of the revoked autonomy, and taken off the air immediately after.
Only half a dozen out of the 50 most popular Kashmiri newspapers are still publishing. The thin paper editions that they can print, often counting less than eight pages, are quickly bought and then passed around until the new edition comes out.
Reporters are cut off from news wires and social media. They are unable to fact check online or make phone calls, and they take on their job with pen and paper – the old school way.
Early in the morning, they scramble in packs of six or eight on motorcycles, chasing the news deep into the streets and neighborhoods of Srinagar – whether a street protest, a gas shortage or the arrest of a public figure. Hundreds of people have been arrested during the past week.
Kashmiri journalists are used to danger, over the years many of them have been arrested or even killed, according to the New York Times. But the media blackout is something new.
“We don’t know what’s happening out there,” said Faisel Yaseen, an editor from the Rising Kashmir newspaper. “We are living in a dark room where access to accurate information comes from a hole, which is very small.”
The Indian government claims to have called for the communication shut down to prevent civil disorders, but added that they plan no action against the few newspapers still operating.
The newspapers rely on paper and ink to keep printing copies, and it is not totally clear how long Kashmiri journalists will be able to hold on with such limited access to resources.
One of the “biker-reporters”, Mr. Mohi-ud-din, said he is not so worried: “In Kashmir, we’re used to this,” he said. “I’ve stocked up for a month.” “But,” he admitted with a frown “it’s never been this bad,” the Times quotes him as saying.