The picture of a sub-inspector trying to strangulate a senior photojournalist testifies what media persons have to go through in a place like Kashmir. The photojournalist in the picture was Touseef Mustafa, the ace lensman who works for reputed AFP.
It was both life threatening and heartbreaking for Touseef, a war veteran photojournalist, who has covered wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, when he was assaulted barely two hundred meters from his home in Hyderpora. He was part of a group of journalists who were outside Hurriyat (g) office trying to cover a press conference that police had stopped.
Another lensman working with Greater Kashmir was injured when his foot was crushed by a police vehicle.
As top Hurriyat leaders were bundled into the police vehicle, waiting actively outside, posse of photographers approached to capture the scene. But before they could click, the Sub-inspector didn’t allow them to move forward. Photographers protest irritated the cop and he pushed Tauseef and banged him to a ‘rakshak’ vehicle, holding by throat.
For the war veteran photographer it was a startling experience. “Cops here don’t know how to handle the situation while attempting to arrest just six people,” said Tauseef who has visited Afghanistan six times to cover the war. “Even in active battle fields like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan I have never faced what I faced in Kashmir,” he says, “it is failure of policing.”
Two months back when Bilal Bahadur, a photojournalist who works for both local and Delhi based newspapers, was covering a militant’s funeral in Bijbehara, a policeman shot a teargas shell directly at him. He survived miraculously with a fractured arm.
Both photographers and journalists are in the line of fire while performing their jobs in difficult situations. They end up being soft targets for both sides. During summer 2016 unrest a freelance photojournalist named Zohaib Maqbool was hit by a pellet, leaving him blind in one eye.
“The policeman fired his gun even after I raised my camera to show him that I am just a photographer,” he said. The recent incident of police brutality against working journalists has left the entire media fraternity in shock. Warning the establishment to ensure that state’s principal arm does not exhibit an abnormal growth, Kashmir Editors Guild termed the situation prevalent as “routine than an exception,” and sort “intervention of the government at the highest level”.
The recent incident involving Tauseef, who has worked in extremely difficult situations around the globe, only reiterates the fact how vulnerable journalists are in Kashmir.
“We are just executing our professional duties but the forces on ground see us as threats. Which is sad,” said Tauseef. “Policemen often claim that they are there to safeguard public, especially media persons, but what they do actually is completely opposite.”
Tauseef fells, “police here doesn’t know what rights a media person enjoys. It is better if they are given a few lectures in the same by their higher-ups.”
– Aaksah Hassan