Archive for the ‘Conflict and Peace’ Category

Kashmir art

These are pictures of loss of childhood and innocence. They speak about a violent world outside shuttered homes. They reveal the terrors of the present and the fears for the future.

The colours are vivid. Red dominates, in blood and fire. Black is an ascendant colour, clouding the skies and scorching the earth. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

The artwork is by schoolchildren in Indian-administered Kashmir, home to one of the world’s most protracted conflicts. These days, they mostly depict childhoods ruined by the violence of adults.

The meadows, streams, orchards and mountains that make their home “heaven on earth”, as a Mughal emperor once exulted, is missing in much of their work. Stone-throwing protesters, gun-toting troops, burning schools, rubble-littered streets, gunfights and killings are some of the anxious, recurring themes on the canvas.

Last summer was one of the bloodiest in the region for years. Following the killing of influential militant Burhan Wani by Indian forces in July, more than 100 civilians died in clashes with security forces during a four-month-long lockdown in the Muslim dominated-valley.

Security forces fired metal pellets from shotguns into protesting crowds, leaving many blinded. More than 1,200 children below the age of 15 were among some 9,000 people injured in the protests. Most of them, according to reports, were “young, [and] were either blinded completely or lost their vision in one eye”.

As violence spread on the street, schools shut. Children stayed indoors for months, drowning in the noise of TV news. At other times, they read and drew. They missed their friends and cricket games. Teachers gave lessons at home, and parents invigilated during home exams. One school even held an exam in a small indoor stadium.

Media caption“I would hide in a corner of my house’ (Video production: Shalu Yadav and Neha Sharma)
Kashmir art
Kashmir art
Kashmir art

When the schools reopened in the winter, teachers found many of the students irate, nervous and uncertain. They were children of government workers, businessmen, doctors, engineers, bankers and farmers.

They came looking “pale, like zombies”, the principal of a leading school told me.

They cried and hugged each other. Having spent months cooped up in their homes in near-captivity, they asked their teachers why they had closed the school. Some of them behaved strangely. They screamed without any reason, banged the tables and broke furniture. Counsellors were called in to calm them down.

“There was anger, a lot of anger,” the principal said.

Then, some 300 of them went to a school hall and sat down with paper and pastels. And they drew furiously.

“That’s all they did on the first day. They drew what they wanted. They didn’t utter a word. It was all very cathartic.”

‘I cannot see the world again’

The children drew mostly in pastel and pencil. Many wrote over their pictures, using speech bubbles, headlines and sentences.

In many of their pictures, the valley is on fire, and streets are littered with the black detritus of rioting against an incongruent backdrop of a blazing sun and birds in the skies.

Then there are young faces scarred and eyes blinded by pellets. It is a recurring, heart-wrenching theme.

“I cannot see the world again and cannot see my friends again. I am blind,” says the subject of one such haunting image.

Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies, as a poet wrote, but in Kashmir, children have lived in the shadow of death for as long as one can remember. There are bodies lying on the street, and there are people on fire in the paintings.

“These are the mountains of Kashmir. And here’s a school for kids. On the left are army men and opposite them are stone-throwing protesters who are demanding freedom,” said a schoolboy in Anantnag, explaining his drawing.

Kashmir art
Kashmir art
Kashmir art

“When protesters throw stones at the army, the army opens fire at them. In the crossfire, a school kid dies and his friend is left alone.”

The other recurring theme – and nightmare – is the burning down of schools. There’s a powerful picture of children trapped in a school on fire, screaming, “help us, help us. Save our school, save us, save our future”.

Others are angrier and more political.

There are drawings with pro-freedom graffiti, and signposts which say Save our Kashmir in pastels. Others extol Burhan Wani, and resonate with anti-India slogans. There are maps of Kashmir oozing red.

In another village in southern Kashmir, a prominent artist found children drawing Indian flags fluttering on top of their houses.

Rival neighbours

A scowling face of a man split into two is a metaphor for the bitter and festering rivalry between India and Pakistan, and the tragedy of a land sandwiched between the rival neighbours.

There’s a heart-breaking pencil drawing of a mother waiting for her son. The children also vent their frustration over the shutdown of internet and mobile phone services during the protests.

Five years ago, Australian art therapist Dena Lawrence conducted some art lessons with young people in the valley. She found black was the predominant colour in their paintings, and most of them reflected “anger, rage and depression”.

Kashmiri artist Masood Hussain, who has been judging art competitions for children aged four to 16 for the past four decades, says their subjects have changed.

“They have gone from the serene to the violent,” he tells me. “They draw red skies, red mountains, lakes, flowers and houses on fire. They draw guns and tanks, fire-fights and people dying on the street.”

Arshad Husain, a Srinagar-based psychiatrist, says the artwork of the children in the valley betrays their collective trauma.

Kashmir art
Kashmir art

“We think children are too young to understand. That’s not true. They absorb and assimilate everything around them. They express it in their own way,” he says.

“Mind you, most of this artwork is coming from children who stayed at home. Imagine the children on the streets who are closer to the violence.”

It is all reminiscent of children’s art inspired by 9/11: weeping children, the twin towers on fire and being yanked off the ground by Osama Bin Laden against a blood-red skyline, a scarred girl wearing an I Love New York T-shirt.

Kashmir art

In Kashmir, where fairy tales quickly turn into nightmares, hope is not extinguished yet.

Let our future be bright, make us educated, don’t make this crisis a reason for darkness, pleads a girl in a drawing. It’s never too late.

Illustrations gathered from children in Indian-administered Kashmir

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39801538?ocid=wsnews.chat-apps.in-app-msg.whatsapp.trial.link1_.auin

NEW DELHI: When there is a vacuum, even a tentative effort to fill it is welcome. At least in theory and in the abstract. But when it is applied to volatile Kashmir, where the students of schools are now leading the protests across the Valley, and local youth-turned-militants are openly appearing to give four gun salutes to slain colleagues the little is so insignificant that it can do more harm than good in immediate terms. As if it fails, as it will without sufficient nerve and strategy, it will close even the tiny option that is available at this present juncture.

2017 has changed the nature of protests in Kashmir with now the separatists barely being heard from, except for the odd statement. Till 2016, despite the deep provocation of pellet guns that killed and maimed young people all across, the Hurriyat leaders were still able to retain control over the protests with their strike calls, and protest calls being heeded. But they sensed they were losing control, and as some of them told this writer, “we have no choice but to follow the mass sentiment and keep calling for strikes, as if we don’t no one will listen to us, and you can imagine what will happen then.” The fear amongst the separatist leaders then, as it is indeed now, is that the rebellion will become armed, and that will lead Kashmir and of course India to a situation far worse than the dark days of the early 1990’s.

Three highly significant shifts have taken place in the last few weeks. And this is major by any standards applied to conflict zones.


One, these columns had earlier noted the increasing attendance of local masses in funerals of militants. Till even two years ago such funerals barely drew a crowd. Now in the past weeks, the shift has the masses from not just affected, but also the neighbouring areas, gathering for the funeral of any person killed by the forces in an encounter, or a clash in above the waist firing. But increasingly so the masses are also emerging from their homes to prevent the encounters from taking place, walking determinedly to the spot in a bid to rescue the militants—usually locals now—with the government forces finding it difficult to cope. This is happening repeatedly, even as the spate of ‘encounters’ increase along with the increasing ‘search operations’ launched by the Army.

Two, students have taken over the protests all across the state. Young school children, including girls in large numbers, have taken over literally, clashing with the armed police and the Army, throwing stones, being injured or killed, and yet continuing the fierce demonstrations. This was not so earlier with the stone pelters young adults, with only a few young teenagers visible in the protesting crowds. Now young school students are in the lead, or active participants in direct clashes with the armed government forces. The defiance and the absence of fear for their own lives is the part of the new, more lethal resistance that is building—or indeed has been built—in Kashmir in the absence of even a minimalist ‘reach out’ strategy by the ruling political powers.

Three, as the photographs attached to this article show, the young militants are appearing without masks as such funerals to give a ‘gun salute’ to their fallen comrades. Sources said that militants are now largely local, with the Kashmir protests acquiring a local resistance hue.

Retired Army generals with experience in Kashmir have been writing about the need for a dialogue. The apprehension in the forces is of the return to a situation where the political masters sit back, and actually preside over a direct confrontation between the people and the Army, a situation that most democracies would like to avoid. The Army in India has never been happy about such situations, and even during counter insurgency operations in Kashmir in the 1990s the push was always to get the political leadership to take over control of the areas cleared by the troops. A senior General, now retired and close to the current dispensation in Delhi, told this writer earlier of how necessary dialogue was, and how essential for the political governments to take ownership of the state “instead of leaving management to the Army.” He has not repeated these words in recent months. But others have, with some generals being attacked mercilessly by right wing trolls for even suggesting dialogue.

It is clear that the BJP government is clinging on the sledgehammer as the only approach in its strategic bag. The Opposition knows this, and is making some tentative moves to come together on the issue of Kashmir. The Congress that had completely dropped the idea of the talks—started initially by former Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee with all sections of Kashmiris—has set up a panel to explore the resumption under Dr Manmohan Singh. Others are in talks with the Congress, including BJP leader Yashwant Sinha who has been insisting on talks as the only option. However, it remains to be seen where this effort goes, as many involved, are still hesitant and tentative about their own position on the border state.

If the Opposition steps in it will have to carry its intervention to its logical conclusion, as a start-finish operation will add to the alienation and the despondency in the Valley. It will make it apparent that even the Opposition parties have no strategy for talks, and are not prepared to think out of the box in dealing with the state that is now literally in the throes of what many young people there believe, a ‘do or die’ battle.

(Photographs AASIF SHAHI: 4 armed militants offer a gun salute to slain militant Fayaz Ahmed Ashwar alias Setha from Reshipora Qaimoh in Kulgam district of South Kashmir.)http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/4/10652/Kashmir-Fast-Turning-Into-a–Do-or-Die-Zone-3-New-Indicators

Kashmiri Muslims have suffered 27 years of military rule, all kinds of atrocities by India’s security forces.

The bitter cold in the Kashmir Valley cuts through the bones, but yet it fails to chill the public’s spirit. Right through the winter, when hundreds of Indian security forces come to a locality to kill less than a handful of militants taking shelter in a house, the local population come out in support of the militants to prevent the security forces from conducting their operations, at times even managing to help the militants escape. For the security forces, of course, the local population supporting the militants are “anti-national” and they have no qualms in dealing severely with the civilians.

The fact is that many in the local population readily risk their very lives to save the militants. The killing of every militant—and they are all Kashmiris, mostly from East Kashmir, administered by India, with a few from West Kashmir, administered by Pakistan—is deeply resented. Each “encounter” killing of a militant or militants, and especially when civilians are killed, sparks public protests, despite the bitter cold outside. And when such protests gain momentum, the security forces fire into the crowds, triggering a wave of further protests.

The Kashmiri people have now faced what is akin to military rule for 27 years; practically the whole area is claimed to have ­remained “disturbed,” with the armed forces enjoying immunity from prosecution for harm done to civilians, whether of rape, torture, disappearance, or killing. According to a statement dated 10 January 2017 of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), in the ongoing uprising from 8 July last year, more than a hundred civilians have so far been killed. More than one thousand civilians have either been blinded or have sustained serious eye injuries as a result of the firing of pellets by the security forces. There have been mass arrests and detentions under the draconian Public Safety Act, 1978. Official government figures put the number of arrests under different criminal charges at around 8,000. Prolonged curfews, media and internet blackouts, suspension of the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and ­expres­sion and of peaceful assembly, have been the order of the day.

Indeed, one can sense the agony of the parents and other loved ones of the disappeared persons. For the period from 1989 onwards, the APDP has estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris—the earlier Omar Abdullah-headed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) ­government had admitted to a figure of 3,744 in the J&K legislative assembly—were subjected to enforced disappearance and subsequently killed in fake encounters. But the Indian state and the establishment have been in a state of denial of the enforced disappearances and subsequent killings, blaming the very victims of the violence for the violence. On the 10th of every month, the APDP stages silent sit-in protests against the enforced disappearances in J&K, and has been bringing out a memory calendar. It has taken on the “responsibility of not allowing the memories of the sufferings of (the) families (of the disappeared persons) to pass into oblivion.” Indeed, the callousness of successive state governments in J&K is also evident in the fact that the state ­assembly is yet to pass a law on protection from enforced dis­appearances. Successive central governments have also been utterly insensitive in not ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Basically for 27 years, India has been using military force against the people of the Kashmir Valley many of whom do not want to be part of India. New Delhi justifies all of this in the name of “territorial integrity” and “secularism.” It blames Pakistan for what is happening in the Kashmir Valley—all the mass protests and the militancy are supposed to be “Pakistan-sponsored.” Yet, the nationalism of the present union government is not even all-Indian; it is a communal Hindutvavadi nationalism representing a section of the Indian population. The Hindutvavadi nationalists in power currently have no qualms in forcing their rule on the Kashmiri Muslims in the name of secularism. Needless to say, the Congress version of nationalism was no less in this respect. Not that Pakistani nationalism is any better. Now the Hindutvavadi nationalists, clearly not out of any real solidarity, have claimed that they support the Balochi national liberation movement in Pakistan; the Pakistani nationalists, on their part, claim that they are for Kashmiri azaadi from India, even as they have made of Azad Kashmir a virtual colony. But given New Delhi’s use of military force in the Kashmir Valley over the last 27 years, Kashmiri azaadi is, indeed, among other things, principally a cry from the heart of the Kashmiri people for freedom from Indian oppression.

– See more at: http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/7/editorials/azaadi%E2%80%94freedom-indian-oppression.html#sthash.lqp6Xw3G.dpuf

‘They dragged me by my hair, beat me with their baton, then shot me with a pellet gun,’ says 14-year-old Ifra.

There are some things about October 31, 2016, that Ifra Shakour says she will never forget. And then there are the hours that she was unconscious.

She remembers hunching over school books, cramming for her eighth-grade exams. She recalls hearing bursts of tear gas shells coming from the local market. And she definitely remembers that feeling of dread when she realised that her little brother wasn’t home.

They caught me by my hair and dragged me. And then they beat me with their baton on my arm. But still they weren’t satisfied so they shot me with a pellet gun

Ifra Shakour

“I asked my mother what was happening outside,” the 14-year-old told Al Jazeera in this 101 East documentary

“I didn’t know what was going on. I closed my books and went out.”

Ifra only made it to her front gate. The last thing she saw were two uniformed policemen running towards her.

“When I saw them, I got scared. That’s why I ran,” she told Al Jazeera.

“They caught me by my hair and dragged me. And then they beat me with their baton on my arm. But still they weren’t satisfied so they shot me with a pellet gun.”

This pump action shotgun has been the weapon of choice for security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir for years. It’s classified as “non-lethal”, used to maim rather than kill its victims.

Each cartridge carries lead pellets the size and shape of mustard seeds. With the pull of a trigger, the gun sprays hundreds of these tiny balls indiscriminately into the air.

Ifra said the policemen shot her at point-blank range.

“After I was hit I couldn’t see anything. Blood was coming out of my eyes,” she said.

“All I could think about was seeing again so I can study, go out with friends, teachers, my family and neighbours. I used to pray to God to make me see again so I can be a doctor.”

OPINION: Kashmir and the myth of indivisible India

Protests triggered by the death of Burhan Wani

The shooting of Ifra came during the worst protests Indian-administered Kashmir has seen in six years. They were triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani, a young rebel commander who had joined an underground network of separatist guerillas.

Wani was an icon and a social media star with thousands of online followers. His death sent shockwaves through India’s only Muslim-majority state. Angry protesters flooded the streets, throwing rocks at security forces and demanding independence.

READ MORE: Kashmiris decry world’s silence over killings

The subsequent crackdown by the government was swift and violent. Hospitals struggled to cope with the dead and injured. Some had been severely beaten, others suffered pellet wounds.

Ophthalmologists in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital said they operated day and night, treating at least 1,000 patients with pellets lodged in their eyes.

Some, like Ifra, were completely blind.

“She was screaming,” said her aunt, Rubeena Banu. “There was blood coming out of her eyes, her ears, her nose. I was so stressed. I couldn’t look at her. I thought she would die.”

Ifra had three pellets in her right eye and two in her left.

“She had gone out to bring her brother home because there was firing and fighting going on,” Banu told Al Jazeera. “What did she do wrong? She didn’t have a rock or a gun in her hand. She had just gone to get her brother.”

During protests the hospitals struggled to cope with the dead and injured [Karyshma Vias/Al Jazeera] 

‘No rule of law here’

The Indian government has resisted increasing pressure to ban the use of pellet gunsagainst protesters and civilians.

“Banning it would take us straight to using bullets, so it’s the lesser evil,” said Naeem Akhtar, a senior minister in the state government.

Every time [there is a protest] the reaction is brute force. Kill the Kashmiris, maim them, blind them

Umar Farooq, separatist leader

“Use of disproportionate force is a problem, crowd control is a problem,” he admitted. “We want to create an atmosphere where we should not use it. It should be the last resort because it’s not for human beings.”

But activists and political leaders have accused the government of being disingenuous. For decades, human rights lawyers have been recording a catalogue of complaints against security forces, including cases of extrajudicial killings, torture in custody and rape. They believe abuses in Kashmir are systemic.

“There is absolutely no democracy here, there is no rule of law here, there is no accountability here,” said Umar Farooq, a separatist leader and the religious head of Kashmiri Muslims.

“Every time [there is a protest] the reaction is brute force. Kill the Kashmiris, maim them, blind them.”

Akhtar, the government minister, said the state takes these allegations seriously and is committed to protecting civilians in this 30-year conflict.

“The government is looking into specific cases of it and wherever we find that there has actually been an established case of disproportionate use of force, we will certainly take action,” he told Al Jazeera.

“They will be investigated, compensated.”

But when pressed about when these investigations will take place, he said: “I can’t put a time frame on that … I don’t know.”

IN PICTURES: Pellet guns cause severe eye injuries in Kashmir

Al Jazeera also requested interviews with the police, the military and the federal government, but none agreed to be interviewed.

Ifra’s family does not hold any hope that her case will be investigated. They haven’t lodged a complaint with the police.

“If we complain, who knows? Maybe they’ll pick up my little nephew and put him in jail,” said Ifra’s aunt, Rubeena. “That’s why we’re scared and we won’t complain.

“Today this happened to my niece. Another day it will happen to someone else, and someone else the day after that. That’s why we say we want an independent Kashmir.”

Ifra has had three surgeries to restore her vision, but her sight is still limited. Her relatives say she has stopped studying and barely eats. She spends most of her days sitting alone in the courtyard outside her home.

“My friend used to come to see me every morning but now she doesn’t come,” she said. “I don’t know what has happened. She’s busy studying and going to school. She’ll graduate but what will I do?”

Source: Al Jazeera News

india-kashmir-27

Two days after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 last year, Suhail Gul Mir, 18, found himself caught between protesters and security forces while returning home from tuition classes in south Kashmir.

His left eye was blinded after pellets pierced through it and a cycle of surgeries and check-ups started at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital.

Undeterred by the vision he lost in one eye and the excruciating pain, Suhail — a resident of Rohmoo village in strife-torn Pulwama district — appeared for his Class 12 final exams in November and fared well.

He scored 75% marks in the arts stream.

“Studying after four operations was not easy. Every time I tried focusing on the page, my eyes and head would start aching. But I kept going,” said an exuberant Suhail.

“My marks would have been higher had I not been injured,” he said, adding that he wants to be a teacher.

His brother Sajad Ahmed Mir said one pellet was still lodged in the posterior of Suhail’s eye. “We want to go to Amritsar for treatment but there is financial constraint. Our father is a tailor and we do not have the money.”

The results of the Class 12 examinations of the state education board held in Kashmir in November were declared on Sunday and 75% students passed the exams.

Hospital data shows that eyes of more than 1,000 people were pierced by pellets in last year’s unrest, leading to various degrees of blindness.

But Suhail is not the only pellet victim to achieve such a feat in the exams.

Tabish Rafiq Bhat, 16, a resident of Pampore town, was hit by pellets on July 9 last year.

According to his family, Tabish was not a part of stone-pelting mob but was caught in the chaos while passing through the area.

Six pellets perforated his left eye and doctors said he would not be able to see again.

Tabish took his Class 10 board exams and scored a cumulative average grade point (CAGP) of 7.

“I am happy. My family and friends are happy. I thank Allah that I was able to take the exams despite my injury,” Tabish said.

He has chosen the arts stream and will attend a government higher secondary school in Pampore.

For Tabish too, preparing for exams was not easy. His right eye would start watering after reading or writing for some time, accompanied by a headache.

“The pain is still there and no vision has returned to the damaged eye,” said Tabish.

Suhaib Nazir, 16, lost his right eye to pellets when forces fired the weapon to quell a protest demonstration near his home in Uzrampathri near Pulwama.

In his Class 10 exams, he scored a CAGP of 7.2.

“I could not study much. Even the doctors had asked me not to study much,” said Suhaib.

His brother, Suhail Parray, said after undergoing three surgeries, Suhaib had a fourth scheduled.

“But my brother said at that point that he would undergo the surgery after appearing for his exams. Such was his dedication and we are extremely happy for him,” Parray said.

“After the injury, we had to travel through the curfew to Srinagar every four days and then after a few weeks, every 20 days. Suhaib was writhing in pain. So studying was out of the question for him for a long time,” he said.

Despite his suffering, Suhaib will focus all his energy on becoming a doctor.

“The pain continues, obviously. But I want to become a doctor and so will take the science stream with biology. I have already joined medical entrance coaching in Srinagar,” he said.

Courtesy- Hindustan Times

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kashmir-unrest-undeterred-by-suffering-pellet-victims-shine-in-board-exams/story-rwIg983LCLj157gCYDVF9K.html

Faced with shrinking revenues, newspapers are going digital and journalists are striking out on their own with digital media start ups
IRFAN QURAISHI reports

 

SRINAGAR: Struggling to survive in the conflict-ridden Kashmir Valley due to financial crises, the legacy media is rapidly stepping into the world of digitisation. Not only are media organisations going digital but journalists who are in the middle of their career and fear job losses are turning to digital media entrepreneurship.

While media organisations see the new age media (digital) as the only option to cut the cost of their news operations and earn money through alternative means, journalists see digital entrepreneurship as the only avenue for creating employment for themselves and others.

Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs. Kashmir Observer, an English daily facing an acute financial crisis, has decided to go digital. Editor Sajad Hyder said the revenue from the market, especially because of the present unrest, is virtually zero. They are diverting their resources for digitisation to generate badly needed revenue from the online virtual market.

 

“Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs.”

 

The newspapers find it hard to pay the salaries of their staff given the turbulent situation in the Valley – first in 2008, then in 2010 and now.  It is obvious that when there is no business in the market, there is nothing that needs publicising with business owners or with the government.

“By going digital, the cost of the print run is reduced. This is being done to use the untapped market, both nationally and internationally, that craves visual media from Kashmir,” said Hyder.

The leading English daily, Greater Kashmir, published by GK Communications, posted on its just-created YouTube channel that, “GK Communications Pvt. Ltd. is pleased to announce GKTV, the Audio Visual Digital Platform that will cater to our fast growing new digital audience.”

Another daily, Rising Kashmir, has also started its multimedia segment, followed by Kashmir Monitor, but they are yet to decide on the complete digitisation of their news operations. However, like many others, they have cut down heavily on their print runs.

Amid this transition, journalists are turning into new age media entrepreneurs, adding momentum to changes that are reshaping an industry known for dismal levels of professionalism, monopolies, and financial crunches. Young journalists are looking for innovative developments in journalism amid the technology boom to secure their future.

Take Tariq Bhat, a local journalist with a degree in mass communications. Bhat has worked with many news organisations such as Munsif TV, 5 Darya News, and 9TV. He says that losing jobs and looking for others actually created the energy in him to think of his own start up.

In 2014, Bhat started the state’s first online, multi-lingual radio app – City FM JK – with meagre resources and just  six colleagues, to transmit folk programmes, entertainment, music, news and information.

The radio app, which is available on the Google Play store, has become very popular among internet users. With the catch-line Panun Radio, Panun Style (Our Radio, Our style), the mobile radio has won Bhat accolades and the spotlight in the national and international media. So far, it has been downloaded over 79,000 times.

“Journalists in Kashmir suffer economically. The industry is drying up. The new generation has to turn to entrepreneurship rather than searching for a job. I took a Rs five  lakh loan from  J&K Bank and 15 lakh from a private financer to start this project,” said Bhat.

 

“This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town.”

 

Initially, people laughed at his idea of online radio. “Now I have over one lakh daily listeners including international listeners and the diaspora. I am an employer now,” he adds.

This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town. The BBC, Zee News, NDTV and Times Now portrayed Bhat as an inspirational Kashmiri youth.

ANN is currently being manned by a small team of eight persons but has already made a name for itself with its multi-lingual programmes and songs, news, current affairs and entertainment. “There is no support from the government for innovative start-ups. Even their advertisement policy isn’t helpful in any way to the new age media start-ups. If it had been, the industry would have witnessed many more start-ups”, said Bhat.

On revenue possibilities, he pointed out that he has a small team on nominal salaries. ‘The thing is we don’t have daily huge expenses in digital news, like we have in print. It is a one-time investment. Whatever we earn from online advertisement or sponsorships is at least managing us. You don’t have to live up with fears of crises and expenditures. Instead, we have attracting more and more international market and people to expect some share in global market. Be it advertisement, app hitting or donations.”

The list does not end here. Irfan Ahmad, a mass communication post-graduate who has reported for national and local media organisations for seven years, is working on his ‘digital media and news podcast’ start-up titled Kashmir Patriot and KP TV.

Pradeep Kumar, the Delhi-based programming head of Kashmir Patriot says that the idea developed when Ahmad was looking for a job after the channel he worked for shut down. “Though he had this idea earlier, he was quite hesitant in turning to entrepreneurship, that too in the uncertain Valley. Fortunately he got an international fellowship on the same subject in Europe and on return he decided to give it a try,” Kumar said.

The start-up is seeking finance from the J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute as the first of its kind digital news platform in the state, according to Kumar. “We will be introducing new tools of mobile journalism. The start-up will be formally launched soon.  The test run is already on. Besides news, views, it would be featuring debates, chats and live feeds,” he said.

For revenue Kashmir Patriot will be focusing on income from YouTube channel by featuring stories for international audiences. ‘The revenue from Google ad sense and website hits may be insufficient initially, but after some time we are hoping with the growing followers and subscribers on social networking, it may rise.  After all, there is no print cost involved in it, which is the most difficult thing to manage in the local market,” said Kumar.

Whatever the platform gets as revenue from the local market and the government will be in addition. “You get something from everywhere on a global platform. Sustaining with a daily newspaper publication or journals in crises-hit market is difficult, but a widening reach on the global market may fetch some more sums,” he said.

Umar Nisar, another journalist with sound information technology skills, developed his own FM station, Pannun FM International, in 2015. He believes the crisis in Kashmir stymies the talent. “No support, besides meagre revenue resources, kills the media industry,’said Nisar. He is currently working on upgrading his FM radio to a Digital Media & Broadcasting Network.

A group of three other journalists, Sameer Showkin, Mir Farhat, and Zahid Maqbool, recently founded a news portal, News Despatch, a family-run news organisation. Showkin’s first sentence in his bio, uploaded on his portal, speaks volumes about what he went through before launching the portal. “Thanks to all those who said ‘no’ to me, it is because of them I did it myself”.

Braving the odds, these start-ups and trendsetters deserve applause. The making of a new media industry in the Kashmir Valley amid all the troubles is something to celebrate.

 

Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He has previously worked for Day & Night News and Kashmir Times. He tweets @ irfanquraishi85.

http://www.thehoot.org/media-watch/digital-media/kashmir-unrest-gives-push-to-digitisation-9862

We know the Kashmir crisis. Or do we?

Written by Jean Dreze |

kahsmir-shutdown-759The first thing that strikes the visitor on entering Kashmir is the massive military presence. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)A historic popular uprising is happening in Kashmir, but the Indian public is barely aware of it. I was unaware of it myself before I went there in October and travelled across the Kashmir Valley. I had read, of course, about some sort of “shutdown” happening there since early July, and also about the stone-pelting and pellet guns. But nothing I had read did justice to the situation on the ground.

The first thing that strikes the visitor on entering Kashmir is the massive military presence. Heavily-armed soldiers and paramilitary forces are all over the place. Their number is estimated at 6,00,000 or so, for a population of six million — that’s one soldier for 10 civilians. In sensitive areas such as Sopore, Shopian and even parts of Srinagar, there is a heavily-armed soldier in front of almost every house, at least on the main roads.

Why are these soldiers there? Clearly, they are not there to repel a possible attack from Pakistan — that would require them to be near the border. Nor are they watching for terrorists: Standing at street corners in full battle gear is not the way to hound underground militants. Perhaps the soldiers are there to counter stone-pelters? That makes no sense either, because the simplest way to clear a neighbourhood of stone-pelters is to demilitarise it: The stones are directed at army personnel, not civilians.

We are led to conclude what every Kashmiri knows: The purpose of this massive army presence is to control the civilian population, and especially to prevent so-called “anti-India protests”, however peaceful they may be. It was a revelation for me to learn that all forms of peaceful protest in Kashmir are banned in one way or another, if there is any hint of a demand for “freedom” (azadi). The authorities have ample powers to prevent protests, not only under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), but also under Jammu and Kashmir’s draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) as well as Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). These and related powers are used with abandon to prevent any expression of the popular aspiration for freedom — not just stone-pelting but also processions, vigils, assemblies, pamphlets, graffiti, or just undesirable statements on social media.

Despite these restrictions, there have been continuous protests or attempted protests all over the Kashmir Valley ever since Burhan Wani was killed on July 8. Stone-pelting was part of the protests, but the uprising also included a wide range of non-violent activities. In fact, the main protest was a general strike: During the last four months, shops have been closed in Kashmir, traffic has been halted and schools have been deserted. This is called a “shutdown” in the Indian media, with calculated ambiguity, and often confused with curfews that have occasionally been imposed by the authorities. But it was a general strike — one of the largest and longest in Indian history.

There is something puzzling about the ability of Kashmir’s economy to withstand such a long strike. This was possible for several reasons. First, Kashmir has a vibrant and relatively egalitarian rural economy, a feature that owes much to the land reforms of the 1950s. The strike did not prevent self-employed farmers, artisans and apple growers from continuing with their work to a large extent. Second, migrant workers from Bihar and elsewhere left Kashmir en masse soon after the strike began. Kashmiri workers, therefore, continued to find work, that too at relatively high wages by Indian standards. Third, Kashmir has a strong tradition of mutual support. For instance, neighbourhood relief committees (often associated with the local mosque) were active after the 2014 floods, and again on this occasion. Indeed, relief work was an integral part of the Hurriyat’s “protest calendars” during the strike. Finally, living standards in Kashmir are quite high. Unemployment is certainly an issue, but poverty and hunger are rare, except among migrant workers. Anyone who thinks that the Kashmir problem is due to lack of development is severely deluded.

In the absence of any space for peaceful protest, stone-pelting became the highlight of the uprising. The security forces responded with overwhelming force. More than 100 civilians (including many children) were killed, at least 1,000 were victims of blinding or other eye injuries from pellet guns, and thousands were thrown into jail. Much larger numbers were harassed by the security forces in one way or another.

On October 18, I joined a fact-finding team of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). We visited the family of Faisal Akbar (name changed), a young lecturer who was said to have been beaten to death by the Rashtriya Rifles last August. According to witnesses, there was a “crackdown” in the village that evening. This means that soldiers barge into people’s homes, beat them up, smash their belongings, and generally spread terror — typically by way of retaliation against stone-pelting. One officer apparently told the terrified villagers, “we know that you are innocent, but if we don’t beat you up, you will never learn”. Interestingly, the local Station House Officer (SHO) agreed with their account of the event. Faisal, as he put it, “succumbed to his injuries”. One rarely hears such consistent accounts of human rights violations from the police and the people. The SHO promised a fair enquiry, but hastened to add that requests for permission to prosecute army personnel were routinely turned down by the home ministry in Delhi.

Every incident of this sort intensifies the rage of the Kashmiri people against the Indian Army, and against India itself. This rage, and the passionate desire for “azadi” (freedom), were already evident 16 years ago, when I visited Kashmir for the first time. They are even stronger today. In fact, the recent uprising, and the repression that followed, have turned almost every Kashmiri into an active participant in the struggle for freedom.

The government of India’s sledgehammer response, aside from being inhuman, does nothing to solve the problem. If the root of the problem is the alienation of the Kashmiri people from India, then state repression can only make things worse. It also undermines Kashmir’s peaceful traditions and pushes Kashmiri youngsters towards armed resistance and radical Islamist groups. The possible consequences, not only for Kashmir but also for India, are too horrible to contemplate.

None of this is to say that there is a simple solution to this situation. Any solution would have to address multiple complexities such as the status of Ladakh, the rights of minorities in Kashmir, the injustice done to Kashmiri Pandits, how to take Pakistan on board, and more. Perhaps the important thing for now is not to devise a ready-made solution, but to initiate a process that might lead to a solution. The status quo is certainly intolerable.http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kashmir-valley-shutdown-hidden-uprising-indian-army-militants-4410627/


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