In Kashmir, internet shutdown following Article 370 abrogation rekindles reading culture

In Kashmir, internet shutdown following Article 370 abrogation rekindles reading culture

More than four months long internet shutdown in Kashmir imposed since 5 August, while wrecking the IT industry and other internet-dependent businesses, is bringing people closer to the print medium, resulting in the increased sales of books, newspapers, and magazines from bookstores and news agencies.

More young people, including high school and college students, whose schools and colleges were shut for months and who would otherwise mostly read online, are now increasingly drawn towards bookstores and news agencies, buying and reading more books, newspapers, and magazines.

Away from social media and cut off from mobile and broadband internet, more people are moving to print medium, according to major bookshop owners and prominent news agencies of the valley.

Most of the major bookshops and news agencies in Srinagar have witnessed a rise in sales of books, magazines, competitive exam literature, children’s books and comics from their bookshelves and stalls over the past two months after they opened shutters again.

Although they were shut for more than two months following the lockdown and shutdown that began in August, more young people and parents, college and high school students started turning up soon after the bookstores and news agency stalls opened for a few hours from October onwards.

Books sale increase

“After we opened the bookstores from October, we are seeing more young people and students turning up and buying books and other print publications. The books are in demand again especially among the young people, teens and college students who would otherwise mostly read online and spend more time on social media,” says Sheikh Ajaz Ahmad, the owner of Gulshan Books, a popular bookstore and publisher in Residency Road, Srinagar.

“We are also seeing more young people buying books of all kinds, including fiction and also books on Kashmir’s history,” says Ahmad. “It’s heartening to see our youngsters getting attracted to book reading in these difficult times. I hope they continue buying and reading books even after the internet is restored in the future.”

Ajaz says the continued internet shutdown has also affected the local bookstores as they would come to know about new books and latest releases from publishers online. They would also correspond via email and WhatsApp with different publishers outside the state in order to buy the latest books. However, in the past four months, he says, they’ve been unable to get regular information about the latest book releases as they couldn’t check it online, which also prevented them from acquiring more books and the latest bestsellers.

“We couldn’t get a new stock of books and bestsellers in different genres which we released in the past four months due to the internet shutdown here,” he says. “But now that more book orders are being placed at our store and there’s more interest towards book reading, we will be getting the latest book stock soon from outside the state.”

(Photo by Waseem Andrabi/via Getty Images)

Ajaz has noticed that most of the young people who visit their bookshop are buying both fiction and non-fiction books, including books on Kashmir’s history and culture, and also old literature classics.

“Many parents are also visiting the bookstore and buying children’s books, comics and picture books for their children who are no longer spending time on mobile phones,” he says.

Hilal Ahmad Misger, who’s a manager at Abdullah News Agency, a major news agency in Lal Chowk, Srinagar says the continued internet shutdown has brought more people, particularly the youth, to their stalls who are buying more newspapers, magazines and competitive exam books in the past two months.

“The sale of local and national newspapers, magazines and other print publications has also gone up in the past few months due to internet shutdown. Earlier, more people would prefer to read newspapers and magazines online and get their news from the internet,” says Misger.

“Many young people and students are also buying more newspapers, magazines and competitive exam books from our stalls which was not the case earlier as they would mostly study online and didn’t buy much books or magazines,” he says.

Misger says they had stopped stocking up leading weekly and monthly magazines as most of the copies would remain unsold before 5 August. “But given the interest and increased demand for print publications among people here in the past few months, we’ve started keeping more magazines and newspapers in stock on our stalls after we opened shutters from 15 October,” he says.

Sharing books, screenshots of articles

For Sheikh Saqib, a first-year literature student at Amar Singh College in Srinagar, four months of internet shutdown has kept him and all his college friends away from social media, and instead brought them closer to reading more books, especially on Kashmir’s history, and different articles on the revocation of Article 370 and its aftermath.

Saqib says he and his friends have been regularly exchanging books on Kashmir and sharing printouts of articles written on Article 370 among their friend circles. They also share PDF formats of different books on their laptops. He says they also share with each other screenshots of different articles on the situation in Kashmir post-5 August which are published in different print and online publications whenever they meet in college or outside the campus.

“One of my college friends told me that he was able to finish over a dozen books including books on Kashmir’s history and novels written by Kashmiri writers at his home in the month of August when our colleges were shut and all phones were dead,” he says. “Now even those friends who would remain glued to the internet, playing games on their laptops and mobiles phones are reading more books and magazines.”

Saqib says books on Kashmir’s history, particularly AG Noorani’s long essays published in the Frontline magazines and his books written on the history of Article 370 are being widely shared among his friends and other college students who want to keep themselves updated on the issue.

“Many of my friends who had little interest in Kashmir’s history are now reading different authors to know more about what happened in the past,” he says, adding that since college students often travel and spend time outside the state in the winter where they interact with students from others states, “they want to know and read more about Kashmir’s history so that they can educate people outside about our history.”

(Photo by Muzamil Mattoo/via Getty Images)

Away from social media, hungry for news

Hilal Ahmed Bhat, the proprietor of the popular Khan News Agency in Lal Chowk, which sells local and national newspapers and magazines, as well as general books and books for competitive exams, says that internet shutdown has brought more young people towards the print medium. He says more youth are asking for different books and news magazines they want to read.

Hilal believes the communications shutdown and internet blockade since the past four months has made people, especially the youth, hungry for more news and information.

“The young people want to keep themselves updated about news from the valley and the outside world. Since internet shutdown has deprived them of online sources of news for months now, they are buying and reading more books, newspapers, and magazines to keep themselves informed,” he says.

He also points out that many people now buy leading local newspapers from his stall say although there’s not much news covered by the local press.

Hilal says he was surprised to see many of his old customers who he hadn’t seen in decades again show up in the past few months after the internet was shut down. They now regularly visit the agency to pick up copies of different newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, and even children’s books for their kids.

“I’m happy to see that at least the internet shutdown has pushed more of our young people towards books and magazines. I think the reading culture has grown in the past few months,” he says, adding that he would like to see the trend continuing even after mobile and broadband internet is restored.

According to Hilal, print sales had drastically gone down in recent years due to increased mobile internet penetration as most of the people, including students, would rely on internet and get their news free from different websites and social networking sites.

“If the internet continues to be shut for some more time, we will see more people reading from the print and the sales of newspapers, magazines and books can go up further,” he says, adding with a smile. “At least this is one good outcome of internet shutdown.”

(Banner image by Mukhtar Khan/via AP Photo)

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