SEATTLE, Washington — Recently, the Indian government has cracked down on journalism in Kashmir. Increased military security, frequent communications and internet blackouts and numerous lockdowns in the region have resulted in restrictions on freedom of the press. News outlets now rely on government funding and are outlawed from reporting on anti-nationalist stories. The media is heavily regulated in Kashmir and this erosion of democracy has deepened issues like food insecurity, violence and poverty.
Kashmir has long been a disputed territory, claimed by both India and Pakistan. By the end of colonial rule in 1947, a Muslim separatist movement emerged, resulting in violent religious riots that ended in the separation of the majority-Muslim Pakistan from the majority-Hindu India. In exchange for military assistance against Pakistan, Kashmir joined India. However, unlike other Indian states, Kashmir had control over every aspect of government except global affairs, communications and defense. The region remains an area of conflict between India and Pakistan.
After the Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata, won many major elections in 2014, the full integration of Kashmir into India became a primary national goal. Increased surveillance in Kashmir targeting separatist groups eventually gave way to the end of Kashmir’s autonomy in August of 2019. This effectively eliminated the Legislative Assembly and other elected bodies, putting Kashmir under the full control of the nearby Indian state, New Delhi.
How Conflict in Kashmir Impacts Poverty
Following the removal of Kashmir’s autonomy, the New Delhi government shut down the region. Schools were closed, checkpoints were installed across Kashmir’s roads, a curfew was instituted and communication and internet access were cut. There were shortages of essential medications and banks and ATMs were closed.
This shutdown greatly affected the private sector in Kashmir, where unemployment is already significantly higher than India’s national average. Firstpost reports that nearly a quarter of Jammu and Kashmir’s youth are unemployed. The news outlet cites a lack of job policy and aid from the New Delhi government as a major hindrance to employment. Additionally, the outlet Greater Kashmir predicts much higher inflation numbers, income decreases and an increase in the price of goods as a result of COVID-19. One report on Kashmir estimated that prior to the pandemic 10.35% of Kashmir and the nearby state Jammu’s population lived below the poverty line. However, worsened conditions will likely cause a rise in these numbers.
Journalism in Kashmir
After the August 2019 decision and internet blackout, news outlets were unable to print. Once the media could print again, the media refrained from publishing stories that would reflect negatively on the government as the media couldn’t afford to lose government funding.
India ranks as number 142 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, mainly due to the state of journalism in Kashmir. The report cites police violence, pressure from political activists and attacks by government officials and criminal groups as threats to the media. Additionally, new media policies allow the government to restrict what they determine to be false and anti-nationalist information. Many reporters who have written or printed stories seen as critical of the government have been interrogated, watched and threatened. These incidents pressure reporters and news outlets to self-censor and avoid coverage on inflammatory topics.
Why Freedom of Press is Important to Fighting Poverty
Resolving conflict and instituting democracy are two important components to solving the crisis in Kashmir. A poor democracy, including a lack of free media, results in inadequate social services and violations of human rights, worsening the issue of poverty. Likewise, poverty is a threat to democracy as it erodes public trust in government. A 2012 survey of Mongolia’s residents, who live in a similar political and economic environment to Kashmir, found that they believed government policies failed to resolve the poverty and unemployment in the country. A lack of trust in government will hinder future government efforts to reduce poverty. Freedom of the press is an important piece of democracy and essential to increasing public trust in government.
How Freedom House Works to Promote Free Media
Freedom House is a U.S. organization founded during World War II to end American isolationism and combat fascism abroad. A large part of their current work centers around promoting democracy globally through data collection. This includes monitoring freedom of the press, internet freedom and election fairness. Based on these measures, they make international policy recommendations to the U.S. government.
Freedom House’s 2020 data on Kashmir ranks the region as ”not free” due to poor grades in political rights and civil liberties. Freedom House notes that following the August 2019 decision, thousands of politicians, reporters, students and civilians were arrested without just cause. Journalism in Kashmir has been rated one out of four due to frequent media blackouts, pressure for censorship and detainment of journalists for expressing criticism or creating pieces that would prompt criticism of the government.
In Kashmir, a lack of free press is both a consequence and a cause of government corruption. A free media is crucial to creating government trust and promoting democracy. A free media is also crucial to help bring to light pressing issues in a country that relate to poverty, hunger, health issues and human rights violations. With media censorship, international organizations remain unaware of these pressing issues that require intervention and assistance. While no solution is immediate, greater autonomy and democracy in the region will benefit the entire region and especially the impoverished.
– Ann Marie Vanderveen
Photo: Deutsche Welle