SRINAGAR: From last three months, confined in a dark room of his house, 30-year-old freelance photojournalist Zuhaib Maqbool regrets of being a Kashmir based journalist. Zuhaib is the brutal victim of riots control weaponry called pellet gun among the valley’s media fraternity covering five months of ongoing unrest.
Since on September 4, Zuhaib make headline in newspapers and television channels, after he was targeted with pellet bullets by the security forces while covering pro-freedom protests in Rainawari locality of Srinagar. However the truth is what Zuhaib says that he was mare a headline for his fraternity and just news for the state functionaries, as nobody actually turned to help him.
Besides hit by scores of pellets on his body, Zuhaib’s left eye was bruised by the pellet bullets which turn him impaired in one eye. “I was only a piece of ‘selling’ story. The more days are passed, the more i am getting irrelevant,” Zuhaib replied bigheartedly.
As he could not bear the expenses of private hospital, Zuhaib has gone through the eye surgeries thrice so far in Srinagar’s government hospital but nobody has come to the front to help him in real.
Despite the retina surgeon performed Vitrectomy on Zuhaib on 20 September, followed by the Lensectomy and Laser surgery, he can only see the blurred image with his eye. “It is like i can see only 5%. There is yet anothersurgery for lens implant and cornea repair, after that doctor are hoping further improvement”, he said.
Zuhaib is the only son of his father and whatever his family could afford has been already spend on his treatment and medicines. These pellets have changed his life forever. The light which was a vital part of his profession has become a bane for him. From his active story telling life, he has been restricted to his mute dark room. He has turned into a story of his own.
While recalling the incident, he said on September 4 when he reached Naidyar Bridge at Rainawari where hundreds of people were staging pro-freedom protests. He took several photographs and as the protests intensified, police burst teargas shells to disperse the protestors. Hence, the clashes between the forces and protesters broke out.
Little did Zuhaib know that this moment is going to change his life forever, he says “We sat in a narrow lane and took some rest”.
“Unexpectedly, I saw a masked cop pointing his gun towards me and I immediately stood up. As he was about to press the trigger, I showed up my camera shouting I am from ‘Press’. In a few seconds, I heard a loud sound with some hot metal objects hitting my body and eyes. I found myself in a pool of blood,” he recounts disastrously.
“It was a target attack”, he adds. The culprit cop who fired at Zuhaib without any provocation remains unpunished as no legal action was initiated by the authorities.
Thinking about his parents can’t bear his condition; he mustered some courage and walked to his locality from where two neighbors rushed Zuhaib to the hospital on a motorcycle.
Zuhaib says, in the beginning when he was a fresh case, many government, non-government and associations of his own fraternity assured him of a helping hand. “There were condemnations via press statements from associations of media fraternity, assurance of action by the state functionaries, promises for help but none of them actually helps”, he says while quickly adding “In real an injured Journo is very poor. I know it was my bad luck, but they (fraternity) didn’t even stage a protest for me.”
Zuhaib believes that he was ignored because he is a freelancer, not a prominent one; perhaps then his life was worth.
Ironically this is not a new thing in valley where attacks on journalists are selective indignation. On July, 30, 2015, Irfan Quraishi wrote a detailed story in the hoot titled, ‘Attacks in Kashmir- Selective indignation’ to ask why other violent incidents go unmarked. Are the others ‘Lesser’ journalists?
The attacks on prominent journalists gets attention from all corners, demands for action, protest demonstration, voices for solidarity and help make buzz all over the mainstream media and alternate media till the goal is achieved. But when it is about journalists like Zuhaib Maqbool, after the story is sold, his own fraternity turns deaf, dumb and blind to their ordeal. They are left on God’s mercy.
The loss of vision in the eye is not the only ordeal bestowed by the security forces to him while firing pellets at him. Zuhaib has a pellet ridden body, pellets in nasal cavity due to which he writhes in pain, suffers high fever frequently.
Zuhaib says he has no hope for help which actually he needs to get proper treatment to regain his eye sight soon. But he is waiting the day when he can again go to the field to highlight the stories of brutalities.
“These cameras were sort of my eyes”, Zuhaib said while showing his broken cameras hit by pellets.
Pertinently there were three pellet injuries reported in Kashmir media fraternity during the ongoing uprising so far. Zuhaib’s friend Muzamil Matoo, another photojournalist, who was with him on that day, was also hit by a few pellets on his head. Muzamil had also to undergo a surgery to remove the pellets from his head.
Another journalist in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, Mir Javid was hit by pellets on August 5. He also alleges target attack by the forces when he was standing on a road.
The support from fellow-journalists is all the more essential for journalists working in the Valley where there are daily troubles to deal with and where, whenever there is unrest. Journalists are accused of biased, insensitive or provocative reportage from all sides. They are caught in the crossfire.
They need to be united, but they need to demonstrate this unity every time a journalist is treated illegitimately, not just on selective incident.