01-Feb-2023  Srinagar booked.net

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‘We Have Become Homeless’: Life Without Kashmir Press Club

After its sudden coup and subsequent closure, a new debate has taken roots in the valley — whether or not Kashmir Press Club matters for scribes. While seniors are divided over the issue, the young journalists say it was their address.

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Javed Dar may be known for letting his work speak for himself, but the award-winning photojournalist had to break his silence over the press-padlock situation and come in the defence of young journalists of Kashmir. 

“By closing Press Club, most affected journalists will be young journalists and freelancers,” Dar reacted on his social media handle. 
 
“At the club they would sit with their experienced seniors in the field, know about their work, share story ideas, explore contacts and many got chance to publish their exceptional pieces of work in reputed media organisations.”
 
Dar’s comment came when some senior scribes argued that journalism was part of life in Kashmir even before the Kashmir Press Club (KPC). It drew a sharp retort from the young scribes, saying that those “who practised their profession in government accommodations” shouldn’t create confusion over the issue.
 
“It’s sad how confusion is being created in the name of this controversy now,” said a young female journalist for whom the KPC was a professional home. “It’s so demeaning how we tend to manufacture these diversionary discourses when our efforts should have been to restore the status quo of KPC.”
 
The young female journalist said the club closure has come as a rude shock to her.
 
“The moment I learned our press club was closed, it took me some time to think where I will go,” the 27-year-old newsperson said. “I roamed for almost 20 minutes to seek parking for my car. Unlike other days, when we had press club, I used to park my car, work, eat and discuss story ideas with senior colleagues there.”
 
In that space, the scribe said, the young journalists didn’t have any barrier. 
 
“Young, freelancers and veterans used to converse on vast subjects,” she said. “It was a sense of collectiveness, though we have different associations based on different understanding, here we were all together.”
 
Before recently closed for the first time since its inception in 2018, KPC had emerged as an institution for journalists across Kashmir. It was an office for freelancers during the 2019 political lockdown and the subsequent Covid curbs since the 2020 spring.
 
Though senior journalists and staffers had their offices located in different areas of the city, it was a most important place for freelancers who used file stories inside the now-closed premises.
 
Following its cancellation, most of these freelancers have scattered all over the Bund, trying to write in the openness of the bone-chilling cold. Some of them work near a teastall, while some sit on the benches and grass of Jhelum View Park, carrying laptops in their hands.
 
“We have become homeless,” said a freelancer sitting with his colleagues in the park. “I cannot afford to sit in cafes daily. The food is very expensive and to work for a whole day, one has to order continuously.”
 
Located in the heart of Srinagar’s iconic Polo View street and girded by huge Chinar trees, the KPC was a home of over 300 journalists registered its members. The space had all the basic facilities for them – internet, heating gadgets, inexpensive food and a space for guests. But all this ended when a press pack staged a coup.
 
Before that brazen entry, the government had mandated to re-register the club, and so did the management body in the first week of May 2021 whose tenure as the elected body ended in July of the same year. But the administration took seven months for its re-registration under the Registrar of Societies and issued the legality on December 29, 2021.
 
On January 13, 2022, the KPC announced that it is happy that the re-registration process has been completed and the election will be held on February 15. 
 
A day later, KPC informed its members that the authorities have put the registration process in abeyance based on an “adverse report” received by CID against someone in the management body. 
 
While those details weren’t made public, two days later, Journalist Saleem Pandit associated with Times of India and four other scribes along with armed policemen barged into the premises of KPC. After a brief meet, Pandit came out to declare the takeover of KPC by the ‘interim body’.
 
Later in the evening, a circular widely shared on social media said that the illegal body has decided to close the club for a week after one of the members tested positive for Covid. Even though the circular was not official, the club was closed on Sunday. 
 
Scribes approached authorities on Monday inquiring about the locked-gate situation. Nobody came clean on the closure before a tweet by Delhi-based scribe claimed that the Estates Department has taken over the club. 
 
Amid the suspense, the administration shortly announced the decision depriving scribes of the KPC. It cited ‘law and order’ situation created “due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups” for its curt ruling.
 
However, the cancellation was heavily criticized by many press bodies including CPJ, EGI, Mumbai Press Club, the Press Club of India, among others, urging the administration to restore the democratic, important journalistic institution ‘effectively dismantled’.
 
“All these events leading to the closure of the KPC reads like a script,” said another young freelance journalist filing stories from Bund these days. “Not that we don’t get it, but the manner it was done was purely vindictive against journalist community of Kashmir.”
 
Even Javed Dar pointed the same when he defended the club for the sake of young journalists of Kashmir.
 
“Those who are saying ‘woen kya faraq peye’, have reputation of not helping anyone in tribe and living in their own superficial world,” Dar wrote. “Truth is they cannot help anyone except their own self.”