A total clampdown

July 20, 2016 01:57 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:02 pm IST

The > disruption of normal life in the Kashmir Valley after the >killing of Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” Burhan Wani was conveyed most poignantly by a photograph of a half page of advertisements in a Kashmiri newspaper. One personal ad after another announced the cancellation of wedding functions on account of what one of them called the “prevailing situation”. By the weekend, after curfew, violent clashes, and mobile, cable TV and Internet disruptions, the morning newspaper too disappeared. In a move as ill-advised as it was vicious, the police >prevented the printing and distribution of local newspapers>. It highlighted how suffocating the effort to control the narrative has been, cutting off oxygen to all avenues for Kashmiris to voice their anger and to exchange information. The cc issued a statement condemning the clampdown, terming it “a direct assault to the freedom of the press”. The ban was to be reviewed “after July 19” — but the government reacted to the criticism a day earlier, >contending that there had been no ban at all, and that it was the result of a “miscommunication”.

This is not the first time the authorities have cut off communication links to thwart collective mobilisation, or to inhibit the circulation of information. And this is not the first time they will shrug off criticism with the familiar justification for the information freeze: to cool the air, to stop impressionable young people from being drawn out on to curfew-bound streets, to counter the signalling from Pakistani TV channels. What is forgotten is that such a clampdown reinforces the sense of siege that has kept anger in the Valley on a slow boil. The protests after Wani’s death were, by all accounts, spontaneous. Instead of engaging with the range of reasons that drew young Kashmiris out to the streets in the full knowledge that they risked injury, even death, the governments at the Centre and in the State took refuge in platitudes and evasion. The death toll has crossed 40, thousands are injured, many of them with sight-threatening eye injuries from indiscriminately fired pellets. After days of curfew, residents are running low on essentials, especially food and medicine. To disrupt channels of communication is to turn away inhumanly from the first responsibility of a civil administration — to mobilise resources to rush aid and succour to the ailing and distressed. And to stem the free flow of information and views, even on a “miscommunication”, is to admit something yet more worrying — that the authorities could no longer countenance the prospect of people getting updates on the situation around them.

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