South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

On Saturday, I spent five hours at a local police station in New Delhi with my brother filing a complaint of criminal intimidation after I was flooded with rape and death threats online. Users on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — with bios that described them as “nationalists” and “proud Indians” — threatened to burn me alive, rape me in the presence of my family and cut me into pieces. One Instagram message invoked what happened to my friend and fellow journalist, Gauri Lankesh, a critic of Hindu nationalist organizations who was shot dead outside her house in Bangalore in 2017.

The abuse came after I shared my opinion about the killing of a civilian in Kashmir. In a tweet, I wrote: “When it comes to Kashmir, there are no humanists, just convenient nationalists.” That was enough to stoke ultranationalist rage, which sees Kashmir not through the prism of humanity but through dangerous, misguided and blind patriotism.

On July 1, Bashir Ahmed Khan, a 65-year-old resident of Srinagar, was shot and killed outside in an alleged crossfire between militants and paramilitary forces in Kashmir’s Sopore region. Khan’s death led to outrage in the most militarized zone in the world amid conflicting reports. A haunting image of Khan’s 3-year-old grandson, who was traveling with him, sitting on his grandfather’s dead body went viral on social media. While paramilitary forces said Khan was hit by a bullet in the crossfire as he was driving from Sopore to South Kashmir’s Kupwara district, his family insists that, according to witnesses, Khan was forced to get out of his car and was shot dead. Khan is the third civilian to die in the valley since May.

Now a child whose innocence was brutally taken away that morning in Kashmir is viewed as a witness in the case. But he is not the first child in Kashmir to witness bloodshed, and he will not be the last. A generation of Kashmiris has grown up witnessing the murder of immediate family members. Most murders are labeled casualties in crossfires.

In August 2019, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special semi-autonomous status given to Jammu and Kashmir and locked Kashmiris under curfew without Internet or any communication for months at a time. Foreign correspondents were barred from entering the valley while many Indian journalists stood outside the iconic Dal Lake reporting that everything was normal, just as 7 million Kashmiris were trapped, stripped of all democratic protections and basic rights.

The multiple and contradictory narratives that surround the death of Bashir Ahmed Khan are not an aberration. Every story in Kashmir seems to have multiple truths. Most are willing to accept the version given by the government and the security forces, but if one listens to the victims and the scarred populace, then one is a traitor who is attacking those who protect the land from the enemy nation.

I’ve reported on the thousands of Kashmiri youths in jails who are refused basic legal protections, on children blinded for life after being hit by the inhumane pellet guns. I’ve been called a peddler of fake news by Jammu and Kashmir officials.

In the end, Kashmiri lives do not matter. Seeking the truth does not matter.

An intelligence official in Delhi warned me against visiting Kashmir after the publication of a column because I might be arrested. But I’m not the only one attacked. Multiple stories by journalists from the BBC, the New York Times and other foreign publications are discredited too as agenda-driven journalism.

Kashmiri journalists deal with intimidation constantly. Photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who was recently awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, was charged with sedition in April under draconian terror charges. The same month, Peerzada Ashiq, one of Kashmir’s bravest voices, was questioned by the Jammu and Kashmir police for his reportage in the Hindu newspaper.

Just last month, Kashmiri journalists were given a 53-page document with new media guidelines by the local administration that sought to create a more nationalist narrative of the stories emerging from the valley. A disturbing part of the Orwellian document read that “any individual or group” held to be circulating content deemed objectionable by the government shall be “de-empanelled,” which would mean that a publication could lose all advertising revenue and would no longer be considered an accredited publication. “There shall be no release of advertisements to any media which incite or intend to incite violence, question sovereignty and integrity of India,” the document stated.

Speaking the truth about Kashmir comes with a heavy price. The threats against me are part of the broader strategy that is also seeking to silence Kashmiri journalists. But we have an obligation to tell the world what’s happening without fear of offending the government and nationalist partisans or losing access to high-level officials.

A child lost his grandfather — he knows a truth impossible for him to express and communicate. That’s why we must step up.


Updated On: July 7, 2020