Early morning on Thursday, last week [0ctober31] what old time radio listeners of Radio Kashmir, Jammu, Srinagar and Leh heard was a deviation from a seventy year old announcement, opening the first transmission of these stations. These stations were not identified as Radio Kashmir but as Akashwani. It is worth mentioning that on June 8,1936 the designation of the national broadcaster was changed from Indian State Broadcasting Service to All India Radio. It came to be known as Akashwani from 1957[ archive.india. gov.in]. Is the nomenclature of “Radio Kashmir” just a name or does it also reflect the genius, culture art, literature and musical heritage of Jammu and Kashmir? Haven’t the people of the two territories of Jammu and Kashmir identified themselves with Radio Kashmir as their own medium? When such decisions are taken do policy makers consider the sentiments of the people of a geographical area? Well, these questions may remain unanswered and after all, what’s in a name?
There were compelling political reasons to start radio stations in Jammu and Srinagar. Soon after partition in October1947 Pakistani tribesmen [Lashkars] from the North- West Frontier Province attacked Kashmir which led to the first Kashmir war between India and Pakistan [which went on till January1949]. It is believed that, this prompted the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India by Maharaja Hari Singh. Pakistan by then had let loose a propaganda blitz against India using the so-called Azad Kashmir Radio, operating from the illegally occupied Kashmir territory . There were also clandestine stations along with the so-called Azad Kashmir Radio and Pakistan obviously had taken a cue from the use of radio for propaganda by countries fighting the Second World War. The primary purpose of this Pakistani war of airways was to incite communal passion and hatred among the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the use of the nomenclature “Azad Kashmir Radio” was intended to confuse the people.
There was no station of All India Radio at that time in Jammu and Kashmir for effective countering of the vicious propaganda by Pakistan. There was no medium wave coverage of All India Radio in the region at that time if at all people had radio receivers, had to tune into the short wave services of AIR from Delhi. Needless to say, this situation was against our national interest.
A solution to the almost nonexistent AIR coverage in Jammu and Kashmir was to start new stations. So, the then ruler Maharaja Hari Singh decided to establish radio stations in Jammu and Srinagar, a decision taken as an emergency measure just a fortnight back on November15, 1947. The Jammu station of Radio Kashmir went on the air on December 1, 1947, and the Srinagar station on 1July1948.The temporary stations were set up with the help of All India Radio and the Indian Army and both the stations were named “Radio Kashmir. Initially the stations “were operated by the Communications Department of J&K Government and this subject had not then been handed over to the Government of India. This situation changed in 1954 when, as a further step towards the integration of Jammu and Kashmir in the Union of India, Communications were handed over to the Government of India. [H R Luthra in ‘’Indian Broadcasting- Publications Divisions].
There were talks between the then Information and Broadcasting Minister B V Keskar and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, then designated the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. At the talks held in Srinagar on April 1, 1954 the question of the nomenclature Radio Kashmir was also discussed and, “it was decided to the name as Radio Kashmir as any change might hurt local sentiments and also because Kashmir continued to have a special status in the Indian Union.”
Referring to the nomenclature of “Radio Kashmir”, Luthra writes,” The propriety of this has been doubted by some, and there were even questions raised in Parliament about it, but the government of India has taken the line that in the existing circumstances Radio Kashmir so named, could more effectively counter the propaganda of the so-called Azad Kashmir Radio operating in the Kashmir territory under Pakistan occupation, and that this name also helped to give the people of J&K state a closer sense of identity with the Srinagar and Jammu stations. Although the association with AIR has meant that the programmes and publicity broadcasts from these two centers have retained a quality, dignity and freedom from the invective and stridency, characteristic of the propaganda emanating from the other side of the border.”
The demands for changing the name of the radio stations in Jammu and Srinagar continued. In fact, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a question raised in the Rajya Sabha Sabha onNovember 29, 1966 asked, why those stations were announcing, “Yeh Radio Kashmir hai”[This is Radio Kashmir]. In his reply, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister Satya Narayan Sinha made the following statement:-
“The radio stations at Srinagar and Jammu have been operating under the name of “Radio Kashmir” for the last eighteen years and this name has become popular with a large number of listeners outside India. The question of changing the nomenclature is however, under consideration.”
It may also be pointed out that in March 1978 when L K Advani was Information and Broadcasting Minister in the Janata Party Government headed by Morarji Desai, there was a question in the Lok Sabha . In the note prepared for that question referring to Radio Kashmir, it was clarified that, “In view of the special circumstances in Kashmir, the orders of the Government of India ordinarily applied to all stations, were not ipso facto to be imposed in the case of Kashmir. For example, Srinagar does not relay any of the Hindi news bulletins.”[Luthra].
One of Radio Kashmir’s important programme contents has been countering the virulent anti-India propaganda and patently false, malicious and communal vituperations by Pakistani radio channels. Both the Jammu and Srinagar stations continue to do this very effectively, besides highlighting local socio-cultural, economic and literary issues and concerns.
For an assessment of the impact of Radio Kashmir, one met the internationally acclaimed Santoor maestro Pandit Bhajan Sopori, a friend and former colleague in broadcasting. He passionately spoke about the seminal contributions of “Radio Kashmir” to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. A recipient of the Padma Shri and innumerable other honors, Sopori was born in Sopore and was raised in Srinagar. Sopore incidentally is considered to have a long tradition of Sufism and Sufiana music. He belongs to a renowned family of classical musicians of the Sufiana Kharana. After completing his Master’s degree in English literature and a short university teaching stint, he joined AIR, Srinagar as a music producer in 1974 and left voluntarily as a senior director from the headquarters of AIR in Delhi in 2004. He excelled as a performer par excellence, composer, orchestra conductor, producer and above all, promoter of budding talents.
According to Sopori, from the beginning, Radio Kashmir was close to the life of people and commanded huge listening. News broadcasts enjoyed the trust of the people and had immense credibility. The programmes countering Pakistani propaganda like “Jawabi Hamla”, “Zalim Khan” “Waqt ki Baat”. “Haqueequt Yeh Hai” and “Wadi ki Awaz” inspired people at large and were morale boosters for our fighting forces, Sopori points out.
Sopori also lauds the contribution of some of the famous writers and producers of Radio Kashmir like Pushkar Bhan, Somnath Sadhu, Pran Kishore and others who used humour and developed an indigenous genre of radio programmes which were much talked about among broadcasters in Delhi. “Zoon Dab” a programme by Pushkar Bhan, for example, continued to be broadcast for almost two decades and was a trend setter. Bhan was awarded the Padma Shri in 1974 and the Sahitya Academy Award in 1976.
Jammu and Kashmir obviously has a rich variety of classical, traditional Sufiana, folk and light music which obviously was an integral part of the programme fair of Radio Kashmir. Among the classical music instruments Santoor is the most ancient instrument of Jammu and popularized by outstanding artists like Shiv Kumar Sharma and of course Bhajan Sopori. During our conversation Sopori spoke about the great tradition of Sufiana music in Kashmir. Sopori pointed out that musicians like Mohammad Abdullah Tibetbaqal, Shaikh Abdul Aziz, Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz and Mohammad Abdullah Setori were closely associated with Radio Kashmir. Folk singers like Raj Begum and Nazeem Akhtar became household names. The list of artists, musicians, playwrights, writers and presenters of Radio Kashmir is too long to be included here.
When Doordarshan came to Jammu and Kashmir, Radio Kashmir held on to its charm among the people thanks to the relevant and attractive programming. Sopori says that various music concerts arranged by him attracted packed audiences.
Many members of Radio Kashmir have laid down their lives in the line of duty during the disturbances there. My batch mate Lassa Kaul, who was the Director of the Srinagar station was the first to be assassinated. The station engineer S P Singh was killed in a rocket attack on the station. Ramesh Marhatta and Mohammad Hussain Zafar, both announcers were shot and were grievously injured. They all paid the price for countering Pakistani propaganda!
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.