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Media again in peril in J&K
Media-persons have been walking on the edge of a sword in Jammu and Kashmir ever since militancy gained roots in the sensitive state in 1989. So far, about a dozen journalists have been killed for working against the 'movement'.
PHOTOJOURNALIST ASHOK Sodhi’s killing in an encounter at Samba (Jammu) on Sunday (May 11) is a testimony to the fact that Pakistan-sponsored militancy in Jammu and Kashmir has taken a heavy toll on yet another important institution of democracy - the press - in a bid to block out the truth from people.

Ever since militancy gained roots in J&K in 1989, the media has unfortunately become the victim of terrorist violence in the state. Over a dozen media persons have been killed in J&K during the past 18 years of turmoil, while performing their assigned duties in the most dedicated and professional way.

Amidst threats, intimidation and violence against the media, former director of Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan(DD), Srinagar, Lassa Kaul became the first media person to be shot dead by the militants on February 13, 1990. Kaul was heading the valley’s most popular medium, as people would take each word of radio as the only truth in those days. The fact that radio and DD were bringing the unalloyed facts before the masses was unfortunately unacceptable to the militants.

State’s information department has lost five persons to the ongoing militancy. Joint director of information, Srinagar, Syed Ghulam Nabi was first kidnapped on October 16, 1992 and tortured continuously for four days. His dead body was found on October 20, 1992. Earlier, assistant director of information PN Handoo was also killed in a similar fashion on March 1, 1990.

The state’s official media lost three of its information officers in a bomb blast, while covering the then governor general KV Krishna Rao’s address on Republic Day at MA Stadium, Jammu, in 1995.

Srinagar based Urdu newspaper ’Alsafa’ lost its editor, Mohd Shaban Vakil, when militants barged into his office chambers on March 23, 1991. Kaul, Handoo, Vakil and Nabi were accused of working against the ’movement’.

The list of attacks on the freedom of press and media in J&K is a long one and with every passing year, it is becoming longer!

On September 7, 1995, Asian News Internationale photojournalist, Mushtaq Ali, lost his life when he was handed over a parcel bomb by some unidentified persons. Two other senior journalists - Yousuf Jameel of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Habib Naqash of the Asian Age also escaped the blast with injuries.

DD journalist Altaf Ahmad Faktoo was shot dead by some unidentified persons on January 1, 1997. The same year, DD’s part-time journalist Saidan Shaffi was killed alongwith his bodyguard in Srinagar. Hindustan Times photojournalist Pradeep Bhatia lost his life in a land-mine-blast on August 10, 2000. Kashmir Times former bureau chief Zafar Meraj was also seriously injured while on the job.

Apart from injuries and killings, all these years the institution of media in J&K has witnessed several emotional and physical attacks as well. Many attempts have been made to blast Prasar Bharati’s Radio Kashmir and DD office in the state. The transmission towers and studio buildings have suffered heavy damages. Although, the medium has continued to maintain the link with the masses.

Militants exploded the house of the editor of an Urdu Daily, Srinagar Times, Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, on Gandhi Jayanti, in 1990. His Budshah Chowk office was subjected to arson on October 5 and October 10 and ultimately burnt the same year. On November 4, 1990, the printing press of Daily Aftab was damaged in a powerful explosion in Gow Kadal.

Two Jammu based English dailies - Kashmir Times and Daily Excelsior, were banned in the valley on December 20, 1990. The ban was lifted only on February 10, 1991. A militant outfit also slapped ban on Delhi’s Urdu periodical ’Al-Risala’ on October 7, 1991.

The killing of Ashok Sodhi on May 11, 2008 has once again reminded everyone that for a media-person, it is an extremely daunting and difficult task to work in this militancy infested border state. Journalists’ problems become even more complicated as they move into the danger zones, literary unprotected.

There are a number of welfare schemes for security forces fighting militancy in the state, but those carrying only pens and cameras to depict the scenes have nothing to bank-upon, except for credit or a by-line!

The media, which seems to be again in peril in J&K, has been braving all these odds while covering incidents over these years of turmoil. It will continue to do the same in future. That is what the entire media pledged and demonstrated on May 12, 2008, when another encounter erupted at Samba recently, in which Daily Excelsior’s chief photographer, Ashok Sodhi, lost his life.

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