Friday, October 28, 2016

Bruised Eye, Broken Lens: Being a Reporter in Strife-Torn Kashmir

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Bruised Eye, Broken Lens: Being a Reporter in Strife-Torn Kashmir
Irfan Quraishi
September 23, 2016, 4:43 am

In a place where fire fights, protests, curfews and restrictions are making headlines, no one knows the story of the storytellers. Amid strict curfew and communication blockades, one of the most difficult jobs today in Kashmir is to tell the story.

The journalists in Kashmir walk on the razor’s edge. They are seen as “a mere propaganda tool of the State” and blamed for “hiding the truth”. As the public feels that the journalists aren’t reporting the truth on the ground, not only does the government gag the Kashmiri media, the security forces allegedly beat up local journalists and restrict them from reaching the spots to cover the killings and protests.

In the latest attack by the protesters on 20 September, a Journalist was injured in stone pelting incident in Srinagar. Anees Zargar, who works with a New Delhi based media organization, was returning home from Uri in North Kashmir where in a deadly attack on army, 18 army men were killed on 18 September.

I, along with other several media colleagues, was on my way home around 8:30pm from Uri when our vehicle was attacked with stones by the protesters near Chek-i-Hokersar at Lawaypora. I was hit by a stone in my left arm.

Anees Zargar, Journalist Based in Delhi

Anees was rushed to Bone and Joints Hospital Barzulla where doctors after treating his broken arm said that it was fractured in the incident.

While as on 4 September this month two Kashmiri photojournalists were covering a rally in old city Srinagar when pellets rained on them. While Muzamil Matto escaped with a few pellets in his head as he ducked on seeing policemen aim guns on them, Zuhaib Ahmad had his whole body, including the left eye, pierced by the minute particles.

Zuhaib underwent an eye surgery and is recuperating at SMHS hospital. The incident was the latest in a series of attacks on media persons by security forces in the ongoing Kashmir turmoil.

Zuhaib, a photojournalist who was targeted with pellets. (Photo Courtesy: Provided to The Quint by Irfan Quraishi)

Ironically on one hand the people label media as “agents” for siding with the state and not telling the truth and showing the “real” picture, while on the other hand the government forces rough up and harass them, labeling media men “Pakistan or Hurriyat sympathisers” who are adding fuel to the deteriorating situation.

Photographers, always the first to be at the scene, have to bear the brunt repeatedly during the ongoing turmoil that so far killed 89 people, including two policemen. Last month, on 8 August policemen thrashed photojournalists in Batamaloo area of the city after an altercation over taking snaps of the protest. In south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town on same day last month, photojournalist Muneeb-ul-Islam was allegedly assaulted by security personnel while covering a stone-pelting incident.

Senior photographer Farooq Javed Khan said policemen presume photographers to be mob inciters. “That’s wrong. Clashes happen without us in the spot,” added Khan, who is president of Kashmiri Press Photographers Association.

During the longest spell of curfew in Kashmir’s history, journalists often got into heated exchanges with security forces as they travelled across restricted areas of the city.

On the other hand, annoyed by the way media, especially ‘television channels that have kept on peddling lies as news’, the protesters in the current upsurge have been hostile towards journalists. At the Srinagar’s SMHS hospital where injured civilians have been admitted, journalists find it difficult to speak to the victims or their family members. People refuse to talk and often ask journalists to leave. There are several instances where protesters didn’t allow a journalist to visit the spot.

Most of the journalists, however, keep on trying to report, at times risking their lives. 

Once travel became impossible during daylight – because the streets have become a battleground between the protesters and government forces – they moved around in the night to collect stories. Subsequently, the government decided to impose curfew at night as well.

As the protests have continued, despite an uninterrupted curfew since 9 July, the government views the messenger with distrust. The curfew passes issued to journalists by the administration aren’t entertained and reporters are regularly harassed on the road. There are several instances where journalists were beaten up or their vehicles damaged.

This sometimes leads to terrifying situations. On 10 July, three of us – I, along with two more photojournalists – were beaten to pulp at SMHS hospital by enraged people who first labeled us as CID agents and then for working for Indian media houses.

Daanish bin Nabi, Rising Kashmir

A reporter with The Indian Express and a senior photographer with an international photo agency also faced the same fate at the hospital.

Night curfews add to our daily problems. My two senior editors at Rising Kashmir, Faisul Yaseen and Adil Masood, met with an ugly incident on the evening of 18 August. Even before they could reach near the barricade at Sanat Nagar, forces standing there yelled at them, “either go back or we will shoot.”

On 20 August the security personnel associated with paramilitary Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) late Saturday night aimed guns at the staff of local daily shortly after they left home from their offices in Srinagar.

Greater Kashmir senior correspondent Abid Bashir along with Kashmir Uzma senior correspondent Bilal Furqani and another staffer Shafqat Ahmed were stopped by SSB men at TRC crossing near Radio Kashmir building.

They shouted at us and asked us to go back. We told them that we are journalists and showed them our curfew passes. They became more furious and refused to entertain the curfew passes. They aimed their guns at us.

Greater Kashmir Staffers

“It was only after we called a senior police officer that we were let off,” they added.

Sumaiya Yousuf, Assaulted and Abused

On 17 August last month, 25-year-old woman journalist Sumaiya Yousuf was allegedly abused and beaten up by an IPS officer and his team at Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar city. According to her, the incident occurred at around 7.30pm.

“I had filed my story and was on way home. My mother called, asking if I could buy some vegetables because there was nothing at home. I saw a shop in Jawahar Nagar and stopped to check. I bought some vegetables. The moment I began to walk back towards my car, the officer and his men jumped out of their Rakshak. First, they started beating up the shopkeeper. Then they hit and abused me”.

Sumaiya says that she has brought the episode to the notice of the top brass of the police who promised to “look into the matter”. “Nothing happened,’’ she said.

No journalist body has come out to show solidarity with her or highlight the troubles faced by the reporters in Kashmir.

“Journalists walk a very tight rope in Kashmir,” said Iqbal Mir, reporter with a local daily. Mir finds “nothing new” in security forces targeting journalists. “What’s new is the common Kashmiri’s anger against the media,” he says.

(Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based journalist. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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