SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir ― Irfan, who requested his real name not appear because he fears retaliation, is a popular Radio Jockey (RJ) at a leading FM station in Srinagar. But a half shuttered down upscale cafeteria is where he has been spending his time since 5 August, the day the Narendra Modi government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special constitutional status. Unlike in his office where he could tune out of the grim politics of the Kashmir Valley through interesting conversations and music, conversations in the cafeteria inevitably lead to discussions on the difficult weeks and months which have followed the government withdrawing the Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
His radio station has been playing music since 5 August, but the RJs were taken off the air amid the internet clampdown and media censorship in the Muslim-majority valley citing security concerns.
“We basically work in the entertainment industry, but if you crack jokes right now you will be mocking the society. Once you come to the station, you take the microphone, you see people around you and feel the mood. The mood right now is grim. But you also cannot be silent as you are in a job where you have to make people smile,” said Irfan, explaining his predicament.
His show on romantic relationships ended a few months ago after it was targeted by hardliners.
When you say nothing at all
For the past few years, Kashmiris have loved tuning into four prominent private music stations ― Mirchi, Red,Tadka and Big FM.
Some prominent RJs talk about a wide range of issues including female infanticide, women empowerment, even taboo subject of incest and domestic sexual abuse, on their shows. But now, while Red and Big FM have their RJs back on air since mid November, there is an unspoken number of Do’s and Dont’s when RJs go on air keeping in mind the political situation and the sensitivities involved.
The weather, snow and traffic conditions dominate the on air conversations. The change in mood among local residents after 5 August also reflected in the playlists, with some FM stations striking a somber note and staying away from party hopping songs.
RJs in Kashmir envy their colleagues in other parts of India where political satire and dark humour is a normal. “When you talk about being a radio personality in mainland India, there are people who are known for being funny . There are people known for being critical of government or administration. They are applauded for it,” said Irfan.
“But in Kashmir, you as a presenter realise that when there is no space even for mainstream politicians to criticise or for women and academicians to go out and protest, how will there be space for an RJ to do satire or criticise the government,” he said.
While Red and Big FM have resumed operations, Tadka and Mirchi FMs, which function online, are down because of the internet shutdown that has now lasted for an unprecedented 114 days.
Sardar Nasir Ali Khan, who is the cluster head for J&K for FM Tadka, said, “These days, the internet is a basic necessity and it has been more than 100 days for us without it. It is the backbone of any radio station. You have to have internet because you have to connect with a lot of listeners, authorities even as you put your stories on social media.”
The radio representatives collectively met with the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary, last week, seeking resumption of internet services, but no guarantees were forthcoming.
“Radio gives a voice to everyone. Someone working on the street can call an RJ, who can relay the grievance to an official. That link that people have is not there anymore,” said Khan.
The continued internet clampdown has also meant no access to social media for RJs who are no longer just voices but public figures and influencers who use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to communicate with a larger audience.
Vidjan Saleem, an RJ with Radio Mirchi, said, “When I would anchor shows I would cross-pollinate my audience using different mediums.That process of modern day entertainment radio has been hit very badly.”
“Insta and Facebook algorithms work on a certain amount of traction that you need to maintain to be a social influencer. I would have 15000-20000 new profile visits every week which has now gone down to 200-300,” he said.
Saleem is craving to go back to his virtual studio in Radio Mirchi, but is unsure of when the dark internet ages will end in Naya Kashmir.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.