All in a day’s work

by Kainaat Mushtaq

“Journalists” said a western philosopher recently “are like whores; as high as their ideals may be, they still have to resort to tricks to make money”.

May be it is true for the rest of world, but in Kashmir – detentions, kidnappings, beatings and killings – is all in a day’s work for many working journalists reporting their own conflict in a hostile environment.

Run Away: The media men being charged by CRPF in Sopore when they were covering a protest on the day of polling.

Twenty years ago, when a bloody insurgency broke out in Kashmir, editor of region’s leading Urdu newspapers was brutally shot dead.

A small group of frightened Kashmiri journalists then, huddled in a dingy room of a newspapers office smelling of stale cigarettes, started asking each other.

“Who next?”

The answer was violent and blood-soaked… nearly a nine of them were killed and over a dozen wounded since then.

Their offices were bombed, many of them were abducted, harassed and jailed.

Some of them were labeled as Pakistani sympathizers and others Indian agents.

But still they pledged … to bring light where there is darkness in Kashmir, truth where there is falsity, joy where there is sadness in the mystic Valley.

“Many of them (journalists) rather seem distracted, I think they were worried about their lives and intimidation and money also worked,” said a senior journalist who survived couple of attacks on his life.

Despite a significant fall in insurgency, the echoes of violence, near and faraway, still echo loudly in journalists’ daily lives.

In late nineties, my father was among 19 journalists freed 
after a 18-hour ordeal at the hands of armed Ikhwanis, or 
government militia, who had at one stage threatened to kill 
five of them.

Militants and security forces always blamed each other for the attacks on Kashmiri journalists who walk on a razor’s edge and can’t afford a mistake because they are reporting their own conflict.

In late nineties, my father was among 19 journalists freed after a 18-hour ordeal at the hands of armed Ikhwanis, or government militia, who had at one stage threatened to kill five of them.

“For all of us it was one of the most harrowing days in our lives,” my father, who works for an international media organization, recalls.

“But I felt nervous for some different reason… had my mother and wife heard about it? Did they know we were at the mercy of brain washed killing machines?”

Well it is hard to grasp just how much it means to work for media organization if you are reporting from a region in conflict it happens to be your own.
The two-decade-old conflict has taken a terrible toll, both on Kashmir and its journalists otherwise.

Hindi Media crew

Caught between warring factions, the small fraternity faces hellish situation, simply for doing their job and most of them suffer from fatigue, stress-related illness and feel worn out.

“But unfortunately most of them (journalist) are unmindful of that they are sick and their condition is deteriorating,” said Syed Abinah Nawaz, a psychiatrist.

She said during more than 20 years of violent Kashmir conflict, they have covered fierce gun battles, suicide bombings, rebel attacks, massacres, protests, mayhem, violent elections and disasters only. Stress levels quickly rise as reporters and photojournalists realize that their assignment will not be easy whenever they go out to cover an incident, mostly violent, she added.

“It is painful and disturbing, but when I see people writhing in blood and dying with bullet wounds, my pain disappears,” said Fayaz Kabli a senior photojournalist.

“But I feel guilty when police do not allow us to photograph the tragedy. I feel disappointed when they stop us sometimes after journalists, ambulances and hospitals are attacked by security forces.”

Years back a tear gas shell fired by police exploded between Fayaz’s legs and tore his calf muscle badly.

“From a distance I was looking at him helplessly as the rattle of gun fire followed screams and cries for help. I still remember Fayaz was bleeding and fell unconscious. But I was helpless,” my father, who was hiding in a nearby by lane, said.

“Fayaz spent months in bed. But I still feel guilty, I did not help him.”

On many occasions, journalists had to drop their cameras and take care of injured reporters, photographers, civilians and even security force personnel.

The strain of seeing the impact of the news they report on loved ones, friends and neighbours and the awful dilemma that stems from having to choose at times between being with your family and covering the story.

Few years ago, militants launched a suicide attack on Income Tax Office in Srinagar.

There was a horrible scene when I switched on television:

Amid the rattle of machine gun fire, bombs exploded with huge orange flashes. The Income tax building was on fire and my mother along with her colleagues was shouting for help from a window.

Journalists were rescuing Income Tax employees but to my surprise my father was dictating the story to his news organization on cell phone.

“I am sorry,” my dad told his wife (my mother) when he reached home. For next three days my frightened mother did not talk but my dad  behaved normally.

Then I realized something smoothing is terribly wrong with my journalist father.

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