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Mysterious Memory Spaces in Indian Kashmir Archives

Newspapers are for sale on January 29, 2022 in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. afp_tickers

This content was released on February 26, 2022 – 08:21


“Error 404 … File not found.” Hundreds of online documents have mysteriously disappeared from local media in recent months in Indian-controlled Kashmir. With them, the memory of decades of violence has disappeared.

Clicking on the link to the 2010 murder of 16-year-old Ishtiaq Ahmed Conte of the Greater Kashmir English daily will send you to the “Error 404” page.

If you click on a news item in the English daily Kashmir Reader about Sajad Ahmed Dar, a young man who was detained and died in hospital in 2012, something similar happens: “Sorry, the page you are looking for is not available here.”

And while searching for Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Malik’s case on the MyKashmir.in portal, the 38-year-old carpenter was shot 19 times during a 2009 raid on his home by paramilitary forces: “No, he is not allowed to access this resource.

“How and for what reason the files went missing is a mystery,” Anuradha Basin, editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Times, an influential daily with “suspicions” about the Indian government, told AFP.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which have claimed Muslim-majority Himalayan territory since independence in 1947.

The Indian administration has been plagued by decades of unrest since the uprising began in 1989, killing tens of thousands. Islamabad denies this, but New Delhi accuses Pakistan of backing separatists.

Tensions escalated with the August 2019 abolition of autonomy in Indian Kashmir under the direct control of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government.

Thousands of people were arrested, including political leaders and militants, and their telephone and Internet connections were cut off, leaving the area isolated for nearly six months.

When the communications were restored, journalists discovered that numerous reports were missing from their newspaper websites. The editor-in-chief of a publishing house in Srinagar, a major city in the region, explains to the AFP that this was considered a technical problem.

– Metadata Repression –

“But after a careful look at our online archives, we realized that what was left was mostly years of insurgency and death,” to the extent that “nothing happened in Kashmir before 2019.” , Explain.

An Indian government spokesman in Srinagar did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

Large-scale protests against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016 killed nearly 300 protesters and wounded thousands by government forces.

Siddiqui Wahid, a historian and deputy foreign minister and founder of the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Pulwama, sees the “terrible” attempt to give a “single explanation” for these events.

“It only makes room for an extraordinary attempt to capture the story,” he told the AFP.

Many media professionals, while speaking anonymously, acknowledge the pressure of the authorities to hide in their archives articles related to murders, rapes, torture and other abuses alleged by NGOs to the Indian security forces, but were denied by Delhi.

A website manager who works for several newspapers says he has been contacted several times by anti-insurgency police to provide technical information.

The editor-in-chief of another Srinagar daily explains that the editors were forced to suppress the metadata of some important articles published online from being made public.

Metadata is used to categorize digital content so that search engines can find the most relevant results. Its removal makes it almost impossible to find a page, the manager tells AFP.

Even if all the files are the same, it is not possible to find them with the help of keywords until you have memorized the correct chain of words throughout a paragraph, “he explains.

– Cyber ​​Attacks –

The work of researchers, journalists, historians, and rights organizations is being hampered and the public is losing its only source of information.

The Jammu and Kashmir Civil Society Alliance, a rights organization that released the 2012 report

The “presumed criminals” rejected the AFP’s request to resolve the matter.

Its operations have been virtually paralyzed since its project coordinator was arrested in November, and its electronic files along with other data were seized by the Indian National Intelligence Agency.

According to local journalists, this is not the first time an independent newspaper has been the victim of sabotage.

The editor-in-chief explains that the Kashmir Times website has been hacked several times and has lost hundreds of reports criticizing the actions of the security forces.

Sajjad Haider, the editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Observer, recalled that the Kashmir Observer had been hit by cyber attacks during periods of large-scale protests closely followed by international opinion.

In 2018, after losing three to four years of files, Outlet chose the most secure server and firewall. He tries to fill in the gaps in his archives by recreating the printed articles. But its website is subject to indescribable restrictions on social networks and its access is inconsistent.

“Attempts have been made to reduce our access and restrict our readers,” Haider estimates. “This is a big challenge.”

Despite decades of pressure from separatists and government agencies, Indian-controlled Kashmir enjoyed a vibrant press with more than 250 dailies.

Since the abolition of their partial autonomy, the editors-in-chief claim to have faced systematic pressure to curb criticism from Indian authorities.

Journalists have been detained under anti-terrorism laws or repeatedly summoned by police and questioned.

In December, authorities closed the Kashmiri Independent Press Club, which criticized police harassment.

The disappearance of the files “appears to be part of New Delhi’s ongoing effort to control the story about Kashmir,” Michael Gugelman, a regional expert at the Wilson Center, an American think tank in Washington, told AFP.

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