Women have driven their way into almost all sectors in Kashmir. Media is no exception. Aliya Bashir reports.
In the past many newsrooms were averse to the presence of a female. But things are changing for good. Kashmir media and women are getting adapted to each other. Female reporters are part of most major newsrooms in Kashmir now, be it the print or electronic media. Many women have also tried their luck in the field in the past too, though only a few have been able to sustain and excel.
Senior journalist Nayeema Mehhjoor, who is a producer with BBC Urdu Service has formerly worked with Radio Kashmir and BBC World service. “My experience was in two diverse extremes. One was closed and suffocating and another was very open with ultimate freedom,” she says.
From language to culture, and professionalism to household chores, she says that her problems were manifold but she faced all challenges with determination and will power.
“I am working in an organization that is ultimate in journalism, I wish this was in Kashmir I would have made my motherland a real paradise and a big seat of learning journalism,” Nayeema says, while recollecting her experience of BBC.
Nayeema rose to the pinnacle of success only after getting a chance to work at the BBC in London.
“Unlike at home (Kashmir), the working environment abroad was very supportive without any gender discrimination. Yet, it had been always an uphill task to accept new changes after getting through bitter experiences. But, I have always tried to raise my head above all and accept every challenge,” Nayeema says.
Women journalist in the valley have developed a unique courage and tenacity to report the different issues on the human costs of conflict, especially in the male dominated power structures. They seem to break the traditional bindings to make a choice between career and family.
Afsana Rashid, pass out of Kashmir University’s MERC, plunged into the profession in 2002. She started her career from English daily Kashmir Images and later worked with Kashmir Times, Etalaat (English) and the Daily Khidmat (English) and besides working for about a few months with ETV News (Urdu) at Hyderabad as reporter and copy editor.
“In Kashmir Times, I found issues pertaining to women were not given any space. But, when I started to work on them, my stories were published and were given prominent space, which encouraged me to continue,” says Afsana. Afsana has also been actively engaged in research activities. She worked as an Editor with Cultural Renewal of Kashmiri Student Youth (CROKSY), an NGO working for promotion of cultural activities in the valley, and was awarded a fellowship for her work on impact of conflict on the subsistence livelihoods of marginalized communities in Kashmir by Action Aid India, Sanjoy Ghose Media fellowship and Humanitarian Award for her work in conflict areas and for story writing on post-earthquake scenario.
“I fail to understand that when it comes to marriage, why people are not enthusiastic to allow married women to perform their journalistic duties. If doctors and bankers are not given an option to switch over to other jobs why only us,” rues Afsana.
Currently, she is working with Chandigarh based daily Tribune as a Special correspondent for Srinagar, and publishes a monthly magazine – Reality Bites focused on developmental and other social issues.
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,” seems to be true for Rabia Noor, another female journalist, working with Greater Kashmir. Rabia is a firm believer of destiny.
Although, Rabia Noor opted a specialisation in advertising in her journalism masters in University of Kashmir in 2005, as she was always interested in doing creative work, yet she landed up in print journalism.
“Since my college, I used to create logos and slogans on the back pages of my copy. But due to lack of scope for advertising in Kashmir, I dropped the idea,” she says.
Rabia joined Greater Kashmir in 2006. From Sunday special issue which included women related issues to health and other social issues, she has covered most beats and is presently working mainly for business page.
“Business is in my blood. My father is a businessman and I think that is the edge which attracts me more to work for business stories,” she beams.
In 2008, she received Sanjay Ghosh award to work on “Orphans of the Kashmir Conflict”.
Most of the women journalists opine that their male colleagues don’t take them as seriously.
“If I would like to cover a protest demonstration or a violent situation, even if my editor allows me but the media fraternity takes it otherwise as they prefer to send a male reporter than a female,” says Asifa Amin Koul, a correspondent in Kashmir Times.
Though women are creating space for themselves, the battle for equality continues. To some extent they have succeeded.
“Although, I had fears and apprehensions about my journalistic career as I had seen how my senior female journalists were not allowed to sit in the newsroom and were asked to file stories from home. But, I tried to break that convention which proved very beneficial,” Asifa says.
She does not limit herself to social issues and likes to cover political press conferences. “I had to cover assembly last year. Since I was the only female reporter covering the assembly, many people would come up to me and bless me which was quite encouraging.”
Asifa got a chance to visit Geneva and Lebanon to attend a workshop organized by Media 21 Geneva, a Global journalism network which was co-sponsored by UN. “I was the youngest and the only Kashmiri and third from India to be invited. There I got a chance to discuss and share my views on Kashmir dispute with my co-participants and the experts of UN and media,” she says.
Electronic media has similarly seen women reporters taking centre stage.
Shahana Bashir Butt, Srinagar correspondent of Tehran based Press TV, always loved to be near the news, near places where things were happening, the reason that made her to choose the profession.
“Every journalist faces mysterious situations at own level, yet she has to withstand against all odds and prove her stance,” she says. She was a third semester student at Media Education Research Centre, University of Kashmir, when she joined the channel.
Sharing her experiences she says “I was doing my third story and giving my piece to camera near UN office Sonwar and I was arrested and taken to a nearest police station. The reason I was given was it was a prohibited area.” But experience only taught her to keep going in turbulent times without succumbing to situations.
She is the only female TV reporter of an international channel from the valley serving in Kashmir. “I always wanted to become a TV journalist. But, working with press TV made me to love journalism as it taught me those things that no teacher or class taught me,” says Shahana.
Irfa Khan also made her mark as a woman journalist in Kashmir. After doing a stint in Srinagar in both print and electronic media, Irfa is nowadays working a senior correspondent for Pakistan based Geo News at Dubai. In Srinagar she worked for Aajtak and its sister news channel Headlines today.
The percentage of women in newspaper organizations has gone up as they seem to be quite enthusiastic in pursuing communication jobs and are more likely to have found fulltime employment than as part time.
For Bismah Malik, breaking the clich?s of only male members entering Journalism and to see herself in print media was a dream come true for her, amidst several objections.
“I was lucky enough to be born in a family, which had generations involved in the field of journalism. However, by the grace of Almighty, I was able to get my admission in Delhi University for Journalism Honours,” says Bismah, a correspondent with Kashmir Times. She also had short stints with electronic media and PR industry, including with CNBC TV 18 and Digicom Solutions, a PR firm.
For most of the journalists it had been more of a passion rather than a profession. And for them, nothing can be better than articulating their passion through their stories.
“I was a final semester student in Mass com, when I started contributing for, Kashmir Newsline. Later I joined Kashmir times and it has been two years in journalism with full of hard work and challenges,” says Sana Altaf, Correspondent, Kashmir Times, who mostly likes to work on human-interest stories, human rights, culture and history.
For the emerging women journalists Sana says that they just need to have confidence on themselves. If they have talent and capacity to work hard, then sky is the limit. But the initiatives have to be taken, instead of waiting for things to happen.
“Journalism is filled with ever expanding scope and challenges and day to day experiments which are rarely found in other fields,” beams Sana.