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Growing literacy make Kashmir papers boom

Jun 21, 2011

The newspaper market is flourishing in Jammu and Kashmir as the Indian state strides ahead in its fight against illiteracy.

Srinagar: There’s some good news coming out of conflict hit Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir: the newspaper industry—moribund in many parts of the world—is alive and kicking in the state, thanks to rising literacy rates.

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According to J&K government’s information department, around 150 newspapers in different languages hit the stands every morning in Srinagar and Jammu, the state’s summer and winter capitals, respectively.

This is in addition to 200 weekly newspapers and 150 fortnightly and monthly publications, while dozens of persons, according to an official of the information department, apply for new titles every month.

Significantly, the Kashmir Valley hadn’t any English daily and Jammu had two small newspapers before the eruption of anti-India insurgency in the state in 1989.

The scene is different today as around 30 big and small English dailies are published from Srinagar and Jammu cities, where nearly one-fourth of J&K’s 10 million population lives.

Among the prominent newspapers are Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Daily Excelsior and Rising Kashmir—all in English. The Urdu press—Urdu is official language of Muslim-majority J&K—boasts of dozens of newspapers like 55-year-old Daily Aftab, 45-year-old Srinagar Times, Daily Alsafa, Kashmir Uzma, Udaan and Taskeen.

Monthly English political magazines like Conveyor and Honour, launched almost simultaneously along with weekly Kashmir Life a couple of years ago have also earned a committed readership. And the number of publications is increasing by the day.

"We often forget the names of newspapers and local magazines sold at our shop," said Hilal Khan, the proprietor of Khan News Agency at posh Residency Road, one of the oldest kiosks in Srinagar.

"But I think we should be quite happy over the mushrooming of newspapers, this is a healthy development," Khan told OneWorld.

Growing literacy

The boom in J&K’s newspaper market is significant given the death of the industry in the US, Europe and many other parts of the world after the advent of Internet and satellite television. Hastening the industry’s doom across the globe was the great economic recession of 2008 that saw hundreds of newspapers closing down.

Reports say the scene is pretty bad in the US, where nearly 175 newspapers have downed the shutters since 2008. They include 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, and 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Many widely read newspapers like 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor have stopped bringing out print edition and are available online only. And it’s estimated that the newspaper industry in the US has shed a fifth of its journalists in the last 10 years.

Back home in J&K, the newspapers’ growth can be attributed to a significant rise in literacy rate across the state. From 55% in 2001, the literacy rate has increased to 68% in the 2011 census.

While female literacy has surged from 20% in 1981 census to 58% this year, the male literacy has also nearly doubled from 44% to 78% during the corresponding three decades. North Kashmir’s Kupwara, a remote and largely underprivileged district, has made the biggest strides in improving the literacy rate, moving from 42% in 2001 to 68% in 2011.

"It’s undoubtedly the growing literacy and awareness that is responsible for the mushrooming of newspapers in Kashmir," said P.G. Rasool, an author and a well-known columnist of the Valley. "I am sure almost every household in Kashmir gets a newspaper in the morning," he told OneWorld.

Razor's edge

However, the success story of J&K’s newspaper industry has a twist: because of escalating newsprint costs and in the absence of a vibrant economy in the state, where an armed insurgency is raging, the newspapers are totally dependent on government for their survival.

Out of the 500 publications, 325 stand approved for government advertisement. About 75 million rupees, according to a government spokesman, were released against advertisement in various newspapers in the state during 2008-09. The amount rose up to 100 million in 2009-10, he said.

Such is the dependence on government that a Jammu-based English daily, run by a liquor baron, mocks at other newspapers through its slogan that says, "Early Times is J&K’s only newspaper that does not survive on government ads."

It's no wonder then that over dependence on government advertisement often forces the newspaper owners and editors to compromise on impartiality.

Says Zahir-ud-Din, a senior journalist and the editor of Urdu daily Alsafa, "Running a newspaper in conflict-ridden Kashmir is like walking on a razor’s edge. You can’t afford to annoy various actors involved in the conflict, particularly government whose proverbial sword of Damocles is always hanging there."

Zahir recalled how the government tried to muzzle Greater Kashmir, where he previously worked as an editor, when the newspaper reported extensively on human rights abuses.

"In 2006, the then government, filed at least 10 cases against us in different police stations of the state," Zahir told OneWorld.

He said the government, as a punishment, withdrew advertisement to Greater Kashmir, the Valley’s leading English daily, for some time. Zahir too has had to suffer; the government doesn’t issue him a passport.

"Despite all pulls and pressures, there are, however, many journalists in Kashmir who have vowed to keep the torch of truth alive," Zahir said.

After all, a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.

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