Kashmir’s Women Chroniclers

Over the past two decades, an increasing number of women have adopted journalism as a career despite the challenges that conflict throws up, reports Durdana Bhat

Journalists hold a protest outside the office of the Directorate of Information and Public Relations against the assault on two on their colleagues. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

When Afsana Rashid, started her career as a journalist way back in 2002, as a reporter for Kashmir Images, there were hardly any women journalists in Kashmir.

“I was given due space in all the news organizations I worked with,” said Afsana, currently working as an assistant professor at the Media Education Research Centre (MERC), Kashmir University. “As an individual, you have to not only create a space for yourself but you have to maintain that space as well”

Afsana also worked for the ETV News (Urdu) in Hyderabad for a brief period, returned home and worked with The Kashmir TimesEtalaatKhidmat, Tribune, Dainik Bhaskar,  Milli Gazette, Weekend Leader, Women Feature Service and Global Press Institute (US).

Afsana has almost followed every beat – politics, conflict, environment, gender, health, development issues, human rights, sports.

“There were occasions when I reported in a situation where curfew passes and identity cards were not honoured when you had to report from ground zero from remote areas of Kashmir,” Afsana said, “But it is under these circumstances you learn the real journalism.”

According to Shahana Butt, another woman journalist, if there aren’t many female reporters in Kashmir the reason for this is the ongoing conflict.

“People fear for their daughters being out for work, away on assignments and late at night,” Shahana said. “So, one has to understand Kashmir is different”.

Shahana Bhat

Afsana echoes Shahana: “Women themselves do not want to be in journalism or their families are not supportive”.

In 2008, when the Amarnath land row erupted, Shahana Butt, then 21, joined Press TV as an all India correspondent and her area of focus was Kashmir. For her, working in the conflict zone was never easy. Shahana believes that women have brought a lot of emotion and reality into the Kashmir narrative.

“Women have not left any stone untouched to highlight the impact of the conflict on the lives of people,” Shahana said. According to her, gender is an element which journalism as a field doesn’t count when it comes to reporting or putting out stories. “My male colleagues have supported my work. It was new to them to have women working in the field,” Shahana added.

Syed Asma, 28 started her career in 2009. In 2010 she joined Kashmir Life magazine.

“I was running the newsroom for many years with the editors. I, being a woman was never underestimated by my male colleagues,” Asma said. “Interestingly, I used to decide the content of the magazine with editors for all those years.”

She thinks that ”gender bias and politics” exists in journalism as much as it does in bureaucracy, or in the medical or engineering profession.

“I believe had my colleagues or the boss been biased with me for being a woman, I would not have been given such serious business to handle,” Asma said.  “But I don’t feel the men are discouraging women in this society. I can talk on behalf of my father, husband or the colleagues that I have worked with. But yes, there is a small percentage of men as well as women in every profession who are black sheep”.

Hirra Azmat, who currently works with Kashmir Monitor (has left it recently and joined a website) says she has faced her share of difficulties working in a conflict zone.

“I will explain this with an example. I remember once I was sent to a hospital for reporting the bullet injuries. I literally ran the length and breadth of the hospital to find the patients and I couldn’t still locate the trauma ward. The medical superintendent categorically told me that he cannot help as he feared it might land him in trouble,” Hirra said.

Somehow, she managed to trace the ward but what followed were the sceptical glances. “People refused to divulge any details because they thought I must be some agent of the state”.

Another thing that irks Hirra the most is the apathy of the officials. “They will still refuse to share the information and treat a media person like sheer crap,” she said. But these concerns seemingly are as challenges for females as they are for men.

For Afsana Rashid, the work culture in Kashmir is beleaguered by a thick layer of lobbyism, favouritism and corruption. “It is disheartening that many local media organizations here do not follow a proper recruitment process, such as issuing appointment letters etc,” said Afsana, “Local media too has to grow as a service sector.”

Overall, the women journalists say they haven’t faced any discrimination from their male colleagues in discharging their work. “I am highly grateful for the support my fraternity has given me. I work with people who I have hardly seen. And these people do not consider me a male or a female, they call me a correspondent”, said Shahana. “For them, my work matters not my gender. It’s just that we have to fan the flames inside us and stop blaming men for our own shortcomings.”

(The story was reported almost two years back.) 

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