A friend’s passing comment set me thinking
EDITION 15 OF KASHMIR CENTRAL
22 EDITIONS OF KZINE
18 EDITIONS OF MAC LETTER
Recently a dear friend who holds a senior position in the UT Administration said to me in reference to another dear friend who also holds a position of power: “He did what you could not do “. The statement was not harsh or judgmental. It was specific to the context, and I acknowledge the role of the friend for whom it was stated. But the words were such that they continued to resonate in my ears. What all have I done? What all have I achieved – I asked myself. I looked at the forthcoming edition of KASHMIR CENTRAL, our weekly news magazine. Edition 15. Plus 22 editions of KZINE, our digital weekly news magazine that came before KASHMIR CENTRAL. Plus 18 editions of MAC LETTER, the newsletter that preceded the digital weekly news magazine. What all have I been able to achieve?
THE JOURNEY THAT BEGAN IN NOVEMBER 2020
Till the last quarter of 2020, media in Kashmir was a one-way traffic. The single-story narrative dominated, whether in local, national, or international media. There was none to challenge these lies and half-truths. In November 2020, we took the conscious decision to establish a media outlet in Kashmir to counter and expose the ‘single story narratives’ being peddled by the media locally, nationally, and internationally. The local journos had normalized the peddling of these single-story narratives and lies had been normalized in Kashmir. Exceptions to this rule have been some journalists in Kashmir whose integrity and nationalism can never be questioned. Some of them felt that they did not want to risk their life and limb to bell the cat. Facing the real threat of militant attack, they worked within self-imposed restrictions.
Many others remained content with the single-story narrative. These lies and half-truths were peddled by the local journos for two reasons. One, for security and societal compulsions. Second, for material and monetary benefits. These were the journos who aligned with external forces inimical to peace and stability in the region. No one – and I repeat no one – had the courage to stand against its one’s own people and colleagues. No one had the courage to show them the mirror and counter their oft-repeated, concocted half truth stories of victimhood. These journos had built public opinion nationally and internationally on the basis of these distortions. I set out with a few trusted team members to take on the organized structure of subterfuge. My team included Miss Bisma Nazir who was practicing law at the Srinagar courts, Ghulam Mohd Mir of Kupwara and Waseem Gul, also a bright young lawyer and some other like-minded team members. We decided to do our bit to set right the media discourse in Kashmir.
WE WERE TOLD TO OPERATE UNDER PSEUDO NAMES
When I shared the idea of establishing the media outlet with some senior friends in the UT administration, they advised me that I and my team must operate under pseudo names to hide our identity for security reasons. I discussed this with my colleagues. I told them that operating under pseudo names would discredit the whole project. Our work is about honesty and about conviction. Using pseudo names seemed to be mocking our conviction. One needs to be courageous, to tell the truth, and stand by it. My friends tell me I am known for my straightforward revelation of what I hold as the truth. Going ahead with this conviction, I and my team decided that we would fearlessly reveal what had been concealed by the journalist fraternity for decades owing to the fear of the militants or for monetary benefits. We were aware that this shall be challenging. Unfazed by them, we set out on our endeavor and carved out space for value-based journalism in Kashmir. Our publications have always been hardcore journalism. People started waiting for MAC Letter, then KZINE, then Kashmir Central on a weekly basis. It created a furore all over Kashmir. Every story in our publications has carried the byline of one team member or another, who worked hard to bring to light all that the terror ecosystem or the corrupt political players wanted to conceal. Looking at the almost explosive content of some of our publications, my friends advised me not to tread on the path I had chosen. They had real concerns.
MY TEAM AND I HAVE UNDERTAKEN THIS TASK LIVING WITHIN KASHMIR
The terror ecosystem in Kashmir is so vast and so entrenched that it reaches your doorstep to stop you. Let us acknowledge that my team and I have undertaken this task living within Kashmir. Let us acknowledge the enormity of what this means for every member of my team. The Kashmir society is deeply knitted. You start digging out the truth somewhere, and you find imprints next to your doorstep. You know that you are not directly part of the terror eoc. If you are not directly part of it, you indirectly are. Someone somewhere in your family network is part of that ecosystem. This is extremely difficult to deal with. Facing even this challenge, we moved ahead on our chosen path.
SETTING THE BENCHMARK FOR BRUTALLY HONEST JOURNALISM
While holding my head high, I also take the credit for setting a benchmark in Jammu and Kashmir for brutally honest journalism. Some months ago, a senior bureaucrat in the UT Administration told me this upfront. He said the kind of stories we do, the kind of content we publish always opens a window for blackmail and extortion. I am aware of this. Several media houses in the region have used such content for their extortionist ways. The individuals whom we targeted have tried, and still try to approach us. They have offered hefty amounts to bury the truth. Many people, after being named, offered huge amounts to shelve any further investigation. I am proud to state on record that nobody can provide a single instance on where I compromised on integrity and journalistic ethics. Those people who do not want their misdeeds to be revealed try to build proximity so that you do not write about them in any subsequent edition. They were disappointed to find that they could not influence any of our publication – MAC Letter, KZINE or KASHMIR CENTRAL. It may be noted that extortion journalism has flourished in Jammu and Kashmir, as elsewhere in the country. Burying news stories based on extraneous considerations has not been our practice. We shall never do so. We take credit for raising the standard of journalism in our region.
THE COUNTER-NARRATIVE MUST BE DRIVEN BY LOCALS
In conversations, while speaking at conferences and seminars, and in my books, I have constantly held that the counter-narrative on terrorism and Kashmir’s terror ecosystem must be driven by the locals. The political class, the civil society groups, and NGOs together have not been able to build the counter-narrative in Kashmir. They limited their scope of work to symbolism and tokenism. With MAC Letter, with KZINE and now with KASHMIR CENTRAL, we have taken it upon ourselves to expose the terror ecosystem in all its manifestations. We introduced the culture of naming and shaming the constituents of the terror ecosystem. Earlier, individuals with nationalist credentials were discredited by being labeled as IB or RAW agents. We each publication of ours, we named the Pakistani stooges and discredited them. We provided a platform for alternate views and thought processes. We honestly and sincerely tried to give voice to those who remained unheard while suffering huge losses including that of life and honour at the hands of terrorists and terror apologists.
Last week, a friend from Delhi forwarded me an article published in The Diplomat titled Rape and Silence in Kashmir’s Jihad. She commented that for the first time someone has belled the cat. The fact remains that in 2021, we at KZINE wrote about the subject on three occasions. We brought to the fore the plight of the victims of terrorists. We spoke about the silence of the society on rape, molestation, torture and murder of women in Kashmir by terrorists. We wrote about the female moles in terrorist groups.
I was warned by some friends in political circles and the eminent civil society groups that do not stand against your own people. This is where I draw the distinction. By naming and shaming those who are part of the clique that caused Kashmir’s downslide, I am not standing against my own people. By doing so, I am standing with my people. I am standing with the large collective that has suffered immensely and seeks succor. We provoke these terror players and terror apologists to introspect rather than point fingers at the state and its institutions.
EXPOSING STATE FUNCTIONARIES WHO WORK FOR THE ENEMY
In our publications, we exposed politicians and government functionaries who worked against the interest of the state. We exposed the duplicity of those government functionaries who take perks and privileges from the state and work for the enemy of the state. Ours exposes sent shivers down the spine of those government servants who work for the enemy country. Looking back, I state with humility that we did what no one else could do. We did it without holding any office, position, or authority. I wrote three books exposing Kashmir’s terror ecosystem and terror apologists. I started out on this path when there was nobody to stand by me. I will continue to tread this path even if there is no one to stand by me. There is a perception among many quarters from Srinagar to New Delhi that I have some kind of say in decision-making in the Union Territory. I have been trying hard to dispel this notion. I often tell my colleagues at KASHMIR CENTRAL that any other person in my shoes would have earned in crores on this notion. But I show the exit to those colleagues about whom I have been suspicious of asking for even petty favours. This is what I could do.