Day 6

Lockdown in Kashmir: A reporter's look behind-the-scenes

People in Kashmir have been without internet, or phones since early August when the Indian government brought in armed forces. Washington Post reporter Niha Masih sheds light on what's happening behind the communications blackout in Kashmir.

'The kind of clampdown that has happened has been unprecedented,' says journalist Niha Masih

Indian security forces personnel patrol a deserted street during restrictions after the government scrapped special status for Kashmir, in Srinagar. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)

The people of Kashmir have spent nearly two weeks without any communication: no phone service, no internet, no television.

Streets are blocked by barricades, barbed wire, and armed guards.

Kashmir, an autonomous region of India, has its special status through an article of India's constitution. But India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked that article earlier this month, instituted a curfew and sent in the guards.

Because of the lockdown, it has been difficult for reporters to get stories out of the region.

According to Niha Masih, a reporter with the Washington Post, some journalists have been flying in and out of Kashmir daily. Others have been finding people in airports to take their stories on USB drives back into areas with communication.

"Things have been very difficult because there is no straight line of communication," Masih told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. "The kind of clampdown that has happened has been unprecedented."

Below is part of their conversation.

Kashmiri men wait before Eid-al-Adha prayers in Srinagar. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

What were you hearing from the Kashmiri people that you were able to talk to?

I think the most pervading sentiment across different sections of the population was that of anger — anger at what happened, at the decision of revoking their special status which was one of the instruments of accession to India in the 1950s. 

Kashmir, that whole region, was actually an independent state, and they accepted being a part of India under certain conditions.

So when those conditions were removed without consulting the population or having a dialogue with them, that's something that ... people were very angered by.

Were they guarded when they expressed their anger to you, or was it something that they were quite open about?

A lot of people said that this decision would entail that Kashmir is going to see another spiral of violence which it has seen over the last few decades, but in recent years it had come down.

A lot of people described what India was doing as occupation, as [what the] British did to India when they colonized it.

Women shout slogans during a protest following restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir, in Srinagar. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)

Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation on Independence Day earlier this week. What justification did he give for his actions in Kashmir in that address?

What he essentially said about the move was that it was necessary to bring Kashmir at par with the rest of the country in terms of development.

This is an argument that they have used before as well saying Kashmir has lagged behind while other states of India have progressed despite the same amount of investment that has gone in. 

This has, however, been contested by a lot of economists who have pointed to human development indices and other statistics to show that Kashmir is actually not as backward as the government would like to portray it.

But he didn't talk then about why he did it without consultation, why he's using so much force to bring these changes about?

No, there was no mention of any of those aspects.

And … as reporters, we have been trying to ask the government some of these questions and every time we've asked these questions, we've either been just not given clear answers, or vague answers like the shutdown and the lockdown is in place as a precautionary measure to prevent violence. It will be eased when the situation improves, without any likier sense of a timeline for this, for instance. 

A mother whose son, according to relatives, was arrested during the clampdown, is consoled by a relative in Pulwama, south of Srinagar. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

And with the shutdown in communications now, there are conflicting narratives about what's going on ... What is going on in terms of the war for information in Kashmir and India right now?

That's definitely been one of the most challenging aspects of this situation. The kind of clampdown that has happened has been unprecedented. 

This is the first time that even landline connections have been snapped which has never happened before,even at the height of some of the major protests. For instance, in 2016, when internet was shut down in the valley for over four months.

All of this has made reporting out of there very difficult. First of all, access to areas is difficult; movement is difficult for journalists. But even once you have your reports, how do you send your stories? 

A couple of things that have been happening: people have either been flying in and flying out to file their report.

The other option is to find someone who is going back to New Delhi or Bombay and send pen drives with those people with material to be able to put out some stuff. 

So things have been very difficult because there is no straight line of communication. Journalists find it hard to get out information, there is a time lag which gives the government the space to be able to discredit some of the information.

Kashmiris attend a protest after Eid-al-Adha prayers at a mosque in Srinagar, during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

The Kashmiris that you've managed to talk to are living in an information void … They don't know what the world is thinking about their plight.

As a reporter for the Washington Post, are they asking you questions about what everyone else is saying about Kashmir?

Yes, I think that people are really worried about why internationally, the U.N. for instance, has not spoken up or done anything to change their situation.

That was a question that a lot of people posed, 'Where is the United Nations? Aren't they supposed to step in in a situation like that?'

That's definitely something that they hope, that through international media, their voices reach out because the national media in their eyes is often very compromised and pro-government.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Niha Masih, download our podcast or click listen above.