“I am not a criminal…I have simply done my job,” said the Caravan journalist Shahid Tantray, who went off social media on the day the magazine put out a detailed statement alleging that he and his family were being harassed and threatened by the police after his reports on the and the army’s alleged in the valley.
The statement, which sought national and international intervention to help him practise his profession, was shared by the magazine on June 8, four days after Tantray last spoke to his family. “I don’t want to involve my family. My parents are old and my sisters are young. I cannot put them in any form of danger and it’s really painful to watch them go through this. So I am trying to maintain distance from them,” he told Newslaundry on Thursday.
The four-page statement alleged that Tantray had been called by the police several times without any formal complaint or FIR, threatened with false cases, and even told to either leave Kashmir or be ready to face jail or bullets. According to the statement, a police officer even told the journalist that Kashmir “is not Europe”. After a series of such events, Tantray had left Kashmir on February 7.
On June 5, five days after his second piece titled "False Flags" was published, Tantray’s father received a call from the deputy superintendent of Rangreth police station who allegedly asked about the journalist’s whereabouts and threatened to send a search party to Delhi. The same night, Caravan’s political editor Hartosh Singh Bal wrote a formal letter to senior J&K police officials, including IGP Vijay Kumar and DIG Dilbagh Singh, asking if an FIR has been filed, the sections invoked and the allegations.
The same evening, the magazine issued a public statement. Three days later, the Srinagar police that a complaint had been filed against Tantray by unnamed “prominent persons” for his article "False Flags". The allegation was that the journalist had named these persons in a “mischievous manner which is akin to giving targets to terror groups and puts them in danger”.
Bal said after the tweet, the police sent an email to the magazine asking Tantray to join the inquiry on June 11, at 11 am, at the deputy SP’s office in Srinagar.
“We replied that we would comply. Nevertheless, we still don’t know what complaint has been filed, by whom, what the sections or allegations are,” said Bal. “Also the notice was issued only after we decided to go public about the police intimidation.”
‘They know they can harass him’
Bal said there was a “pattern of intimidation” to stop any reportage being done by Tantray. “What does his family have to do with his reporting? Where else have you heard of parents of a journalist being called into the police station to answer questions about their child’s work?”
On February 1, when Tantray’s first article was published, a sub inspector from Rangreth police station allegedly called him and asked why the piece was published and if it could be removed.
One of the reporter’s friends said that after the piece was published, “many of us told him not to publish the second piece right now”, referring to "False Flags". “I have seen him work on these stories for months. These are stories that had to be done but after seeing how he had to leave Kashmir in February and the pressure he was under, we warned him not to publish the second piece as it would make him a clear target,” said the friend, who is also a journalist.
Tantray’s friend alleged that the police know they can harass him as he is from Kashmir. “If the piece had been done by a journalist from Delhi, the reaction would have been totally different.”
Shujaat Bukhari ‘link’, and other allegations
There has been a barrage of allegations levelled against Tantray after he put out the statement, including an opinion piece in a local daily, Greater Kashmir, claiming his reports have put lives in danger by sending out a “hit list to terror groups”.
Five days after the second piece was published, Shaheena Bhat, a corporator from Srinagar who was named as one of the organisers of nationalist protests in the report, five times that she was being threatened by the journalist and faced a threat to her life. She compared her situation to that of the late Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot dead in 2018.
The "False Flags" story suggested, with quotes and photographic evidence, that the army was trying to establish a new generation of power brokers in Kashmir who toe the line as per the BJP’s vision, and that the protests were a similar attempt to manufacture an image of normalcy to an international audience.
Another corporator quoted in the report was Javed Beigh, a former public relations officer for Omar Abdullah and incumbent general secretary of a local political formation, People’s Democratic Front Secular. Beigh told Tantray that he led the protests while the army “only provides security”.
Like Bhat, on June 2, Beigh too that Tantray was “endangering lives of few remaining Hindus and Nationalist Kashmiri Muslims like me & also casting aspersions on our armed forces”.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Beigh accused Tantray of “creating a spicy story” and “misquoting” him. Asked what he had been misquoted on, Beigh said, “I spoke to him about a lot of things. I did not know he was going to write it…Even if it was on record, he should have sought my permission.”
Beigh said the allegation that the army or the state was behind protests to create a false sense of normalcy was not true. “I have protested against the army as well,” he said, detailing a against those involved in the killing of three labourers in an encounter in Shopian. Beige didn’t provide details on how he protested against the army, but said we “must not simply blame the entire institution for a few bad apples”.
If Beigh and Bhat felt endangered by the article, did they file a police complaint?
“I first want to talk to Shahid,” said Beigh. Bhat chose not to respond to Newslaundry.
Hartosh Singh Bal said the allegations reflect the “Orwellian India we’re currently living in”. “Nobody is able to point out which facts in the story are wrong or what part exactly is fabricated. Forget quotes, we even have photographic evidence of the posters and banners being unloaded from army trucks…We also write articles about Amit Shah. Does that mean we’re making him a target?”
A journalist in Kashmir who chose to remain anonymous said, “If they start telling journalists not to name people, what will we be left with to do our work? What credibility will any of our work have?”
On June 10, Greater Kashmir, one of Kashmir’s leading English dailies published an article titled ‘’. The article is by “guest contributor” Majeed Ahmad, whom the paper doesn’t identify. It called Caravan a “rag magazine” and Tantray’s article a “bundle of lies and deceit”. It accused the report of naming “prominent people” and thus “carefully send out the hit-list to terrorist groups on the prowl of people advocating peace in the valley”.
According to the journalist who spoke to Newslaundry, “planting an op-ed like this in a major regional newspaper, points to malice”. Another local journalist wondered how such a piece could “even pass the editorial”.
Tantray’s first piece on declining press freedom in Kashmir in fact details this very phenomenon of the changing nature of Greater Kashmir and its attempt in “toning down the news it carried”.
“The assumption is that Kashmiris are dumb cattle who will believe whatever is written in the newspaper. This is not true, the people here live this conflict and know the reality. Instead of addressing the trust deficit between state and people, the state is simply going after the messenger,” said a Kashmiri journalist.
In August 2021, the Jammu and Kashmir police said that they woud be cracking down on “white collar jihadis” who according to them were “the worst kind of terrorists”. It that the police were busy preparing a hit list of government officials, journalists, businessmen, lawyers and politicians to “instil fear among people”. Lt Gen DP Pandey, GOC, Srinagar's Chinar Corps, at a press conference a few months later.
On June 8, when the Srinagar police tweeted about the complaint against Tantray, it also compared his article to a blog titled ‘Kashmir Fight’, an anonymous blog which has since been . The blog ran smear campaigns against several journalists, activists and politicians in Kashmir, and came in focus after the murder of Bhukari.
The Srinagar police wrote, “In past many prominent personalities like Shujaat Bukhari have been targeted & killed due to similar articles focussed on certain personalities in blogs like Kashmir Fight etc. Inquiry into allegations & reasons for naming these persons has started led by a DySP rank officer.”
A Kashmiri journalist told Newslaundry that equating the blog with the Caravan was completely unjustified”. “The blog is anonymous, we don’t know who really runs it and even till date the police haven’t been able to establish a direct link between the blogs and the killings.”
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