Caught in Conflict 

Kashmiri journalists have paid their due for covering conflict and got caught up in it too. They have been manhandled, kidnapped, and even slain for doing their duties, reports Mohammad Auqib

Kashmir has never been a safe place to live and work. There is always a sense of fear and danger hovering over everyone who hails from Kashmir and who comes here to work. In the last three decades, journalism in Kashmir has also become a difficult area to work.

Around 21 journalists have been killed since the year 1990 in Kashmir and hundreds of violent incidents have taken place where journalists were attacked, both verbally and physically, at the hands of troops. Yet no one has been held accountable for these acts by the State till date.

As per the annual report of the media watchdog, Reporters without Borders, of the 180 countries India ranks 138th in press freedom. The report cites the main reason as “physical violence” against journalists

On January 26, the Republic day, J&K Police barred six photographers and cameramen working for top media organisations from covering the main function at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar.

Last week, four photojournalists – Waseem Andrabi of Hindustan Times, Nisar ul Haq of Rising Kashmir, Mir Burhan of Asia News Network, and Aijaz Ahmed of Kashmir News Service – were hit by pellets in the Valley when the troops allegedly fired pellets at them in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.

The news caught attention when the picture of one of the photojournalists, Nisar ul Haq, who was injured by the pellets resumed his work the next day. His photo while performing is professional duties went viral on social media.

Talking to the Kashmir Scan, Haq said he received pellets in his left eye, his forehead, lips, face and neck.

“This can’t stop us from working. I picked up my camera the next day to work,” he said.

The journalists were hit by pellets when they were on way to cover a gunfight which erupted in Shirmal village of Shopian. While heading towards the spot, the photojournalists were fired by pellets by the paramilitary forces.

Talking to Kashmir Scan, Waseem Andrabi said this was not the first time they were attacked by the troops.

“Las time, troops beat me up and broke my camera while I was performing my professional duties in downtown Srinagar,” he said.

Waseem calls upon the international media organisations to look into the matter and ensure safety of journalists, especially in conflict-ridden areas.

Waseem had come to limelight last year with a viral picture of him while taking an injured CRPF man to a safe place.

“I could have lost the eyes sight forever as pellets hit few centimetres near his right eye. I was left with six pellet wounds in face and neck,” he said

Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG) said every time the issue was being brought to the notice of the authorities, the media is being promised that they would investigate the issue.

However, action has never been initiated against anyone for violating the basic conduct vis-à-vis media handling.

Soon after the incident, Reporters without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières), an international body of journalists, called upon the authorities from India to conduct a full probe into the firing of pellets at journalists.

Issuing a statement regarding the attack on photojournalists, Kashmir Press Photographers’ Association (KPPA) said that the photojournalists visited the gunfight spot in Shopian to carry out their professional duties.

“They were showered with pellets from a close range,” the statement said. “KPPA believes that the oft-repeated assault on the photojournalists is uncalled for and employing such tactics by the government forces won’t deter us from carrying out our professional duties.”

Another photographer Basit Zargar says it had being targeted continuously for caring their professional duties had become a norm now.

“In 2016, we were on an indefinite strike because we were targeted by the troops multiple times. The government then assured us that action will be taken but that was mere eyewash,” Basit said.

A Kashmir-based journalist Aasif Sultan continues to be behind the bars for the past six months.

Sultan, who worked as an Assistant Editor at ‘Kashmir Narrator’ was picked up from his residence and detained by J&K Police on the night of August 27, 2018. He was formally arrested on September 1 for his alleged involvement in an incident of gunfire between the troops and ‘militants’ in Batamaloo area of Srinagar on August 12, 2018.

Many journalists have also got warrants against their names. In September 2017, Kamran Yousuf, a freelance photographer was incarcerated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and in 2018, Auqib Javeed, a reporter for a local daily in Kashmir was subpoenaed by the same agency in connection with a story related to the chief of the all-woman group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Asiya Andrabi.

The incidents reveal that Kashmir can never be a viable option to work as a journalist. The journalists have paid their due for covering conflict and got caught up in it too. They have been manhandled, kidnapped and even slain for doing their duties.

 

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