India bans Islamic TV channels in Muslim-majority Kashmir

May 12, 2017 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Srinagar, May 12, 2017: Worried about the radicalization of young people in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, the federal government has banned Pakistani and Saudi Arabian channels in the violence-ridden region.

The May 7 ban came a day after Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu expressed concern over reports that these channels, many of which propagate hard-line Islam and anti-India propaganda, were being broadcast without the government’s permission.

Indian forces are fighting Islamic militants working to create an independent Islamic nation or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. The three-decade long conflict has become more violent in the past year with the state witnessing a surge in militant activity and violent protests since the killing of a local militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016. In the five months of violence that followed, more than 90 people were killed and thousands were injured.

The decision to ban certain broadcasts has evoked sharp criticism from Kashmir’s political leadership and civil society who said it interfered with the religious affairs of Muslims who comprise about 65 percent of the state’s population. The government has already blocked social media in a bid to stop groups organizing protests.

“How are TV channels who broadcast Islamic values responsible for spreading unrest in Kashmir?” said Kashmir’s chief cleric and separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Mirwaiz said the federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), banned social media and Islamic television channels at the behest of hard-line Hindu groups. Their actions could only deteriorate the situation, he said.

“A war has already been started against the people of Kashmir at all levels. The media has been gagged to prevent the world knowing the reality. But all this will fail as other oppressive acts failed,” he said, adding that “such tactics reflect an authoritarian mindset.”

Syed Ali Geelani, a separatist who advocates for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, said the ban was a “direct interference in religious matters.” It shows how the government “targets the Muslim community and Islam,” he said.

However, Kashmir’s cable operators said most of their customers watch Islamic channels and they may not be able to cut them off as it would hit their businesses.

Cable operator Khateeb Hussain told that the ban could lead to public outrage. “Many have subscribed to cable TV just because it broadcasts Islamic channels. Channels like Saudi Sunnah would broadcast five prayers at the Kabah in Mecca, which is mostly viewed during Ramadan. If channels like these are banned the subscribers will discontinue their cable subscription,” he said.

Columnist and civil society member Gowhar Geelani said some elderly people who cannot perform the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca because of health or financial reasons often spend time watching Islamic channels just to see pictures of Mecca and Masjid-e-Nabvi (Prophet’s Mosque) for spiritual solace.

According to Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society Khurram Parvez, the ban, which includes Pakistani cultural and sports channels and all social networking sites, only shows that “the pretense of democracy has to be suspended for the militarized occupation to survive.”

Meanwhile, a senior police official who did not want to be named told the ban comes after a series of protests where the flags of Pakistan and the so-called Islamic State were raised.

“There are several Pakistani news channels that glorify such acts by the people of Kashmir. It leads to more such actions and radicalization,” said the police official.

Radicalization of local youth is a growing trend, said Kashmir’s police chief S.J.M. Gillani at a recent press conference. While most militants fighting in India were foreigners in the past, now the majority are locals.

There are over 200 militants active in Kashmir, 110 of them local Kashmirs — 95 of them young locals recruited in the past year. The rest are foreigners, he said.

– ucan

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