Kashmir’s print media marches on!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Talking Point: Dr Javid Iqbal

Shujaat Bukhari in his article ‘A successes story amid all odds’ while relating the ‘Rising Kashmir’ tale lays down a matter of fact…starting a newspaper in Kashmir is not an easy job.  Multiple publications in the print media belie his claim. However an assessment of how many sustained to stay afloat indicates what he is trying to make out.  The pulls, the pressures of any conflict zone could be forbidding. Kashmir is no exception.

The journalists could get into the crossfire…literally, proverbially too! It has never been easy in Kashmir, even before militancy. Militancy made it tougher. Added to over-ground contenders were the underground militants engaging security forces. Post 1989 scenario stands painted by Shujaat Bukhari with the desired shades; a time phase in which he was one of the media actors. We may assess the growth of media in Indian subcontinent, and thence J&K State, so that a holistic picture emerges.
British Raj in India allowed a measure of press freedom, as ‘Times of India’ of ‘Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd’ came-up in 1838 AD in Bombay, and ‘Statesman’ in Calcutta. These English language newspapers reflected the day to day life of Britishers in India, and later on Congress party initiated by British liberals like Lord Hume and Annie Beasent. Those were the days when Congress was asking for favours, rather than rights. And favours only for people of British Indian territory, Indian States were a category apart with despotic autocratic rule.
Jammu and Kashmir State like other Indian States had not even the small measure of freedom which British India enjoyed. In late 20’s of 20th century ‘Ranbir’ was published in Jammu. Kashmir valley didn’t have media publication worth the name even though the movement for political rights was on from 1931. In late 30’s and early 40’s that papers like ‘Hamdard’ and Khidmat’ came-up, with phases of intense censorship varying with relative freedom, which however had a limited extent. Moreover there was bitter rivalry between the publishers.
Khidmat-Hamdard rivalry had a political rather than a journalistic basis. Khidmat was National Conference’s media face, whileas Hamdard edited by Prem Nath Bazaz was NC contender. Bazaz initially Sheikh Abdullah supporter turned into a bitter rival espousing any anti-Abdullah voice, be it the one of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah or Ram Chand Kak—JK Premier 1946/47. Bazaz had a political party of sorts representing the peasant [Kisan] and labour [Mazdoor] though it didn’t make much headway, as Abdullah dominated the scene. With Kak, he also had a hand in organising ‘State Peoples Conference’ an anti-Abdullah front. For any student of growth of Kashmir journalism, any research scholar, this could form a part of study. ‘Khidmat’ archives are a good source, where I got a chance to study the events and happenings of those early days of Kashmir journalism.
Whileas in the wider avenues of subcontinent, English press made an early appearance, there were some Hindi publications too in the later half of 19th century. ‘Kavi Vachan Sudha’ of Harish Chandar and ‘Brahmin’ of Narain Mishra were publication meant to undercut the Persian influence of Mughal era, and its offshoot ‘Urdu’. Though Gandhi propagated Hindustani as an assimilative linguistic process, Hindi media was vociferously propagating Hindi. ‘Al-Balag’ and ‘Al-Hilal’ of Maulana Azad made a huge impact on survival and growth of Urdu journalism in the subcontinent. Urdu was the predominant linguistic form of Kashmir journalism, until as Shujaat Bukhari makes out the spreading literacy with English as the predominant medium, being the international link language necessitated initiation of English press. Of that later, first the post-1947 scenario in Kashmir, an assessment of how it affected the media in Kashmir, which could be a prelude to post-1989 scenario painted by Shujaat Bukhari.
1947! Kashmir became bone of contention between two of South Asia’s most powerful states-India and Pakistan. The political dispensing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, two-third of which became the ‘Indian Administered Kashmir’ had soon contenders of various hues, and of varying intensity. The print media felt the pressure and hardly anything that the ruling regime of the day would not relish got printed. The print media insignificant though in those days, mostly vernacular felt the pressure and self-censorship became the rule before the state would get into the act. Khidmat continued to project NC viewpoint, Hamdard continued though under differing ownership and editorship. A welcome addition was ‘Aftab’ Urdu daily edited by Kh. Sonaullah Aftab—an old hand in journalism, who had tried his hand across the line in ‘Pakistan Administered Kashmir’ only to face challenges. Switching back to vale, the challenges did not cease. His satire ‘Khazar Suchta Hai Wular Kay Kinaray’ conveyed what he could not say directly, given the constraints that press was experiencing.
As 50’s turned to 60’s ‘Srinagar Times’ came-up with its trademark cartoon—Bashir Ahmad Bashir [BAB] made many a morning. His cartoons were as telling as Kh. Sonaullah’s ‘Khazar Suchta Hai Wular Kay Kinaray’. A serious attempt to convey the views behind news was initiated by Shamim Ahmad Shamim’s [SAS]’s ‘Aina’ a landmark in Kashmir journalism. SAS had linguistic as well as oratorical fluidity in Urdu and he used it with telling effect. However he too had to take a measure of political cover, before he could say what he wanted to. The political cover was provided by the political skills that he acquired by his acumen. SAS combined journalistic and political roles, changing garbs with effortless ease. He departed as quickly as he came within approximately a decade and a half, succumbing to dreadful cancer in 1980 AD, aged just 43 years. It was a tragic loss.
Post 1989! There is hardly any aspect of post-1989 which Shujaat Bukhari has left unexplored right from the days when Al-Safa made a mark. The tale and trail continued in vernacular press, though the role of English medium ‘Kashmir Times’ cannot be ignored. Jammu based initially, with a fair readership in the valley, for the bi-lingual lot, it remained an evening read after a morning look at the vernacular. In nineties with ‘Greater Kashmir’ taking on the daily garb from a weekly one, valley had a Standard English daily every morning. With the advent of 21st century and a continuing militancy confronting the state, media was working under all the strains imaginable in conflict zone. State, as Shujaat Bukhari makes out has enough in hand to squeeze the media, though censorship is unacceptable, understandably useless with ever widening panorama of information technology. The state squeeze is visible for conscious and knowledgeable readership. Hence the ones who desire to stay afloat with a readership to boost of need to remain vigilant not to succumb to squeeze. With ‘RK’ coming to fore in 2008, ‘KT’ hitting stands early morning in the valley for the last few years and ‘GK’ looming large, increasing and avid readers have a variety to pick from. There is a healthy competition, no acrimony. I could vouch for it, being privileged to work with all. Never ever have I heard a bitter word or seen an undesirable gesture against each other by the main players in Kashmir media. Instead there is realisation that they need to take care of each other, stand by and for each other!
When the going gets tough, the tough get going…heavier the odds stronger the march!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival] Feedback on: iqbal.javid46@gmail.com  

(courtesy: Rising Kashmir & Dr Javid Iqbal)

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