Kashmir Dispatch February 2023

WKA News Roundup – February 2023

February is a short month, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big stories coming out of Kashmir. From ongoing protests against the eviction drive to Modi’s continuing war on the press, here are the biggest stories for February 2023.

Police raid BBC offices

In a dramatic escalation of Modi’s crackdown on the freedom of the press in India, police raided the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on February 14th, 2023. Fifty officers from the Tax Department led the raid of the BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai.

10 BBC employees were virtually held hostage as the Tax department rifled through tax records, emails, and cloned phones, and seized other documents.

The raid was seemingly prompted by the BBC’s decision to run a two-part documentary India: the Modi Question that examined Prime Minister Modi’s involvement in deaths of hundreds of Muslims who died in riots in 2002. Modi was cleared of all charges by the Supreme Court of India in 2012.

While the BBC documentary was not released in India – the administration launched a full-throttled condemnation – calling it “colonial propaganda” and “hostile garbage.”

Right-wing social media agitators defended the raid by claiming that China was funding the BBC to run anti-India propaganda–a routine reaction of denial.

“It was a pattern we’ve seen so many times before,” said Raqib Hameed Naik, an Indian journalist who runs Hindutva Watch, a website monitoring hate speech and misinformation on Hindu nationalist social media. “These fake allegations are first pushed by right-wing IT cells on Twitter, then they make it onto primetime television debates and eventually they end up with raids by government agencies.”

The war on Freedom of speech is nothing new in India. During the emergency years in the 1970s – then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended the constitution and repeatedly jailed journalists who were critical of the government.

India continues to have one of the worst records for journalistic freedoms in the world – falling in the World Press Freedom Index to 150 out of 180 countries.

You can read more about this story here.

Modi Administration fosters disinformation by quoting experts that don’t exist

Autocrats love fake news but the Modi administration is taking it to the next level by repeatedly referencing experts and think-tanks that do not exist.

EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based NGO which tracks the spread of misinformation online released a report that called into question ANI – one of the Indian Government’s favorite publications to reference with ministers like Amit Shah and S. Jaishankar using the agency to put out interviews.

The DisinfoLab report covers multiple years and examines a trend by the government that has largely remained unchanged.

The 2019 report claimed to have uncovered an Indian influence network covering “265 fake local news sites in more than 65 countries”. The 2020 report claimed to have unearthed a 15-year-old influence operation “targeting international institutions and serving Indian interests”, which was done primarily through resurrecting “dead media, dead think tanks and NGOs” – and in some cases, “dead people.”

One of the most egregious examples included ANI referencing a Canadian think tank known as International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS) which was formally dissolved in 2014, yet was quoted over 200 times between 2021 and 2023.

The ANI also referenced experts such as ‘James Duglous Crickton’, ‘Magda Lipan’ – sometimes misspelled as Magad Lipan or Magda Lipin – and ‘Ms. Valentin Popescu’, they did not seem to be available or even exist.

With the Modi administration arresting, intimidating journalists, and sending tax officials to close their offices – soon fake news is all India will have left. You can read more about this story here.

Businesses remain closed in response to ongoing evictions

Last month, we told you about the  sweeping evictions  that were occurring in Jammu and Kashmir. While the government gave vague and contradictory information about the eviction drive, they have not stopped the eviction drive that is depriving poor people of their homes and sources of income while falsely claiming they are targeting wealthy landowners.

Shops and businesses throughout Srinagar remained closed to protest the ongoing eviction drive. While local authorities called for the shops to be reopened, local business owners continued to observe the strike after the Hurriyat Conference called for it to be continued.

“It is not a big matter like Article 370 or statehood. This concerns our livelihood, home, and families so we observed the strike even if they (authorities) threaten us against it,” a shopkeeper from Srinagar’s old city area told NewsClick.

You can read more about this story here.

Final thoughts: “Flooding the zone with B.S.”

The Indian government has strategically been keeping people divided and distracted while they enact their agenda. Modi has clamped down hard on the free press and restricted dissenting opinions from permeating through the media. This can be especially detrimental when he is forcibly evicting people, some of whom are nominally his supporters, making it difficult to get the truth out to the nation and allowing rights abuses to continue unabated.

It’s a stark reminder that India is a democracy in name only. So much so in fact that it has recently been downgraded to the level of Electoral Autocracy by Sweden’s V-Dem Institute on March 16th, 2021.