Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, the Managing Editor of Kashmir Times went to the Supreme Court against the communication blockade that Jammu and Kashmir is passing through post-August 5. After the verdict came more than five months later, the petitioner told Samreena Nazir that the decision has huge consequences in future
Kashmir Life (KL): What prompted you to go to the court in the wake of August 5 decision?
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal (ABJ): Media in Kashmir has faced many issues and challenges of communication blockade, especially in last three decades of militancy and counter-insurgency. It was caught between several pressures, physical intimidations and threats from militants and state actors. But, this time the communication blockade was so stringent; it pushed the entire population of Kashmir and five districts of Jammu behind an iron wall and were made absolutely invisible. Unlike past, it was not partial blockade limited to certain areas or some facilities. This time, mobile and landline phones were not working and the internet was completely blocked.
We were only getting official voices, which was a one-side communication. We had no access to the voices we wanted to hear, it was something like a long haul with no hope of an end. I felt like if such blockades become precedence, it would sound a death knell for the media. So thinking from a very professional view, I felt the need of approaching the court.
KL: What were the main pleas that you wanted the court to address?
ABJ: The main issue was that there was no official ban on the media. If you remember in 2010 and 2016 restrictions were imposed on newspapers and they were not able to print for a week. In 2016, the printing presses including newspaper copies were seized. This time it was completely different, they didn’t touch the media as such but they actually took away their tools. In today’s modern times, a journalist is extremely dependent on modern systems like mobile phones and the internet but these vital tools were taken away. Basically my petition was to bring back these tools. I wanted the court to revoke internet ban and all other communication bans immediately, even the landline and mobile services were not restored then.
KL: How your counsel managed defending the case when Kashmir Times was the only newspaper that was not publishing?
ABJ: I don’t think it was only our newspaper which was not getting published. The fact is that only a handful of papers were being published and that too were the truncated versions of what they used to be, they went without editorials and comment pieces and even now, you don’t see much in the comment section barring few exceptions. Most of the newspapers operate from Lal Chowk and most of the printing facilities are in Rangrate, there is quite a distance between two areas. I think it was a brave effort to print those truncated editions amid severe restrictions but it was absolutely impossible for us to do so.
We were bringing out the Jammu edition. We still had partial internet in Jammu, so we tried to maximize the few whispers that we could hear. We also tried to reach foreign media and several other national media organizations that had the resources of sending their teams and bringing out stories, other than the official version. We tried to use them as sources.
I have to give absolute credit to my counsel, Vrinda Grower for having faith in me. Being a very good friend of mine right from August 5, we were in touch regarding the situation. I told her, how difficult things look and we were unable to operate. While I was looking for the answers, she came with some suggestions and we decided to fight.
KL: What were the psychological and physical costs of going to the court?
ABJ: Physical costs weren’t much except I had to travel Delhi a few times besides finding and getting papers. I didn’t appear much in the court except two or three times, because it took away lot of my time. We were facing very difficult situations because the entire burden of work was put on Jammu office. My lawyer was doing things for me she bore most of the cost other than that cost which has been immense.
So far psychological costs are concerned, we have been facing financial problems for years, operating on a low budget and having already skeletal staff, it became very difficult. In 2010, the central government had stopped our advertisements which we never got since then and after August 5, the state government also stopped giving us ads. They gave us a few advertisements in November but thereafter they have been stopped.
KL: How you see the reportage of the case you were fighting?
ABJ: I haven’t really followed it staunchly, but I think I got a mixed response. There are people who have been lukewarm, some were encouraging while others were critical. By and large, I found immense support not initially but gradually especially across India. From Kashmir, I had not expected much because of the threats and intimidations the Kashmiri press is facing even today. I am in full solidarity with the media in Kashmir.
KL: The Court took more than five months to decide the case, how you see the verdict?
ABJ: Every delay cannot be called justice fully, but we welcome the judgment because it has laid down very significant principles, which may have far-reaching consequences in future because internet access is considered one of the major mediums of freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right and cannot be violated. Moreover, the state cannot use arbitrary powers to impose restrictions like communication blockade not even under section 144. The state must come in public domain with specific orders stating reasons on why this is being done and how this is being done. So that onus has now been placed on the state. The state is being held accountable so in that sense, it is extremely good, but the court didn’t immediately revoke the orders.
KL: How you see the situation right now after the Supreme Court gave its verdict?
ABJ: I think let’s wait for a few more days and see how they respond as the court has now asked the state to review them. Actually a lot remains to be seen – how the state and the central government is going to respond. They have given them one week to publish the orders I don’t think they have done that so far but there is still one more day to go and other than that they have talked about the restoration of partial connectivity which is really nothing as it does nowhere exist on the papers. We waited for almost 6 months but now it is hoped that within few days there is decision fully in the spirit of the verdict and I am lying in the spirit of the verdict.