Independent journalism in peril as never before in India; reminds of British rule

Mohammad Zubair’s arrest is one of those glaring examples of how an independent media person can be arrested

Representative (courtesy: DW)
Representative (courtesy: DW)

Humra Quraishi

In recent years the sheer harassment that journalists face in the Kashmir Valley has only been spreading out. The severity of the political powers is so strongly intrusive that journalists have been even stopped from venturing out from the country. In 2019 author Gowhar Geelani was stopped from travelling to Germany, now comes the news that photojournalist Sanaa Irshad Mattoo, who’d recently won the Pulitzer, was also stopped at the Delhi airport from travelling to France. In fact, there have been at least one more instance where a Kashmiri journalist wasn’t allowed to travel abroad! Why? I wonder why?

In fact, whilst on journalists and writers, the going can be termed difficult. It is a tough profession and the going gets tough when there’s worry of the political rulers backing the 'Godi media' and trying their utmost to run down independent journalists and editors and all those trying to keep afloat against the turbulent political tide. Mohammad Zubair’s arrest is one of those glaring examples of how an independent media person can be arrested.

Have you ever wondered why Investigative Journalism hasn’t really picked up in our country? It is precisely because the going can be very risky, dangerous and tough. No, not easy to write against the police and the politicians and to unravel the layers of the entire system under their direct control.

There are several instances and counting of how journalists have been hounded and attacked in our cities and towns for exposing the nexuses and the actual political culprits and the key players!

In fact, during the British rule in India, no criticism of the rulers was to be tolerated so the Indian writers had found a discreet way to do so. They did so through cartoons and poetry and subtle prose. That’s how the Avadh Punch first got published in Lucknow. So successful it was that soon several editions were simultaneously published from several other cities of the country. Punches all the way!

Nowadays too, journalists and writers are worried about how to report fearlessly in this atmosphere, where political bulldozers are ever on the alert to pull down structures, human or otherwise.

For the Tibetan Refugees in the Kashmir Valley, The Dalai Lama is their leader

As I’m filing this column on the birthday of His Holiness Dalai Lama (he celebrated his 87th birthday on July 6), so let me try to focus on the Tibetan refugees living in the Srinagar city. For these Tibetan refugees, their leader is the Dalai Lama. Nobody else matters to them.

The Tibetan refugees are perhaps the smallest minority group in the Kashmir Valley. Several years back, what had taken me by complete surprise was to see this well-planned basti of Tibetan refugees living in the heart of Srinagar—close to the Makhdoom Sahib dargah. On a rainy afternoon, when I was walking around the area to take closer look at how they lived, I’d asked a couple of Tibetan boys if they could direct me to their families. What I got in return were angry looks from them.

Undeterred, I continued walking in the rain and slush, down a row of houses, and stopped near a group of young Tibetan men. They stopped chatting almost immediately. Spewing aggression, they said, “We are not interested in talking to anyone. We are not concerned about any crisis here… Muslims we are, but we have our own schools, masjid, shops… we keep to ourselves.”

No door opened to me in this Tibetan colony. Yet, I was reluctant to give up and went to the basti again and yet again. Each time I was greeted with the same sort of rebuffs and hostile looks. Even when I suggested that I would treat them to momos and special tea at one of ‘their’ restaurants, they had responded with a firm 'no'. Perhaps, they were wary of strangers or of the security bandobast around. On each of my visits, I had spotted armed security men standing atop the Hari Parbat hill, their guns pointing at the basti.

When I’d asked the locals what they thought of these Tibetan refugees living this way, they’d told me: They are Muslims but they are different from us. They live here but for them the Dalai Lama is their only leader. Even culturally they are very different… they are not like us Kashmiris.

That could perhaps explain why they lived huddled together in this colony, having little involvement with the local politics and politicians and people. Their main source of economic survival was embroidery, tailoring and owning eateries. I could spot many small-scale tailoring units; sitting tucked in tight spaces with embroiderers making enchanting designs on a variety of pherans and kameez and scarves.

I never got any clear answers on whether these Tibetans even travel down to Dharamshala or New Delhi to interact with other Tibetan refugees living in exile in India. They seemed to be completely engrossed and happy in their own world and relayed disgust at any sort of intrusion.

In the midst of craving for those good old days, leaving you with these lines of Kamala Das from her book – 'Closure':

‘A Blessed Life/

True, /

I broke a commandment /

or two/

but shall not plead/

for society’s pardon, /

or God’s. /

When I disobeyed/

I tasted bliss/


I count myself blessed/

not for the fame/

or fortune/

but for those wanton hours/

of pure abandon…’

(Views are personal)

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