NEW DELHI: Gowhar Geelani has become the second Srinagar-based journalist to be charged under India’s anti-terrorism law in the past few days, fueling concerns among Kashmiri reporters that authorities in the Indian-administered region are stepping up attempts to silence all critical voices.
“India wants to establish the peace of a graveyard in Kashmir by silencing indigenous voices and demonstrating a false sense of normalcy in the region,” Geelani told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
“The larger aim seems to be to silence the articulate civil voices in Kashmir — it is not an attack on me or any other journalist, it is an assault on the institution of journalism and civility,” he said.
On April 22, Geelani was booked by Srinagar police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which allows authorities to designate individuals as terrorists.
Police said in a statement that they had received information from sources that: “An individual named Gowhar Geelani was indulging in unlawful activities through his writings on social media.”
“Is asking question or expressing opinion in democracy an act of terror? It is bizarre and concocted and motivated,” said the journalist, who has been recognized for his book “Kashmir: Rage and Reason,” which was released last year.
On April 21, Srinagar-based photojournalist Masrat Zahra was booked under UAPA for engaging in “anti-national activities” on social media. In the same week, another Kashmiri journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, who works for prominent national daily The Hindu, was booked on charges that one of his recent stories was “factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of the public.”
According to Geelani, the silencing of journalists will not be limited to Kashmir but will spread across the whole country. “The authoritarian mindset cannot act democratically and will use the instrument of the state to muzzle opinions and the press elsewhere in the country also,” he said.
Questioning of journalists has intensified following India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a 70-year-old provision that had given autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
New Delhi took away the state’s special status on Aug. 5, 2019, leading to a subsequent curfew and a complete lockdown in the area.
“Such acts show nervousness on the part of the government which took away the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, and despite all the harsh measures it is not able to restore normalcy in the state,” Geelani said, adding that there was “a larger design in pursuing such political agenda” when the world was preoccupied with containing the danger of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government is bringing new domicile law making provisions for outsiders to settle in the region, changing names of places and attempting delimitation of legislative constituencies in the state that will change the political centrality of Kashmir,” he said, explaining that such interventions only boost radical voices at the cost of moderate ones.
“People have not accepted the changes that New Delhi brought in. How long will you suppress the voice of the people through troops on the ground? There is anger. The moment there is some space available, people will react. It is the lull before the storm.”