In conflict battered Kashmir when the truth became a casualty and propaganda replaced news, Kashmiris tuned to one source, BBC radio, and its correspondent Yusuf Jameel became a household name. Shazia Yousuf reports.
Born on Mar 3, 1958, Jameel (Shah) would take part in literary activities and write short stories in Urdu. By the time he was in Higher Secondary, he was made editor of the Urdu section for the school magazine – Aabshar.
When he reached college he began writing feature articles. “Khaleej Times was the first organization to pay for my write-ups. At that time I was studying in Amar Singh College,” recalls Jameel.
In 1979 Jameel visited the daily Aftab office to inquire as to why the second of a two-part article on politics of Jamia Masjid he had sent was never published. The editor Khawaja Sanaullah expressed surprise and was annoyed at his desk in charge for even allowing the first part. He advised Jameel not to write on such issues.
When Jameel was about to leave Sanaullah offered him to work in Aftab. “He told me, you can work here but it should not affect your studies. Without thinking much I answered it wouldn’t,” says Jameel.
He worked in Aftab as assistant editor for four and a half years and it was there he was given his nom de plume Yusuf Jameel by Sanaullah himself.
Jameel’s transition to English journalism was also courtesy of Aftab. He would translate Kuldeep Nayar’s column, Between the lines, into Urdu for the newspaper.
“Once Nayar came to Srinagar and asked Khawaja sahab who translates the column, as the translated version carries the same spirit,” recalls Jameel.
“When I met Nayar he told me that if I wanted to make a career in journalism I should switch to English,” Jameel adds.
In October 1983, MJ Akbar came to Srinagar and appointed Jameel as stringer for the Telegraph. He worked for 10 years with Telegraph. Meanwhile, he got a job at BBC. He also worked with other organisations including Time magazine and Reuters. He moved to Asian Age after Telegraph when MJ Akbar started it. It was late 1980’s and militancy had already begun.
As BBC correspondent, Yusuf Jameel became a household name in Valley and to a large extent gained popularity in the subcontinent. Kashmiris considered his dispatches in the BBC’s radio broadcasts as the most authentic news. However, reporting from a conflict zone was not a cake walk. Jameel was threatened, abducted, attacked with grenades and survived a parcel bomb.
Everybody wanted Jameel to carry their statements or their version of the story. “Everyday 100-150 statements would drop on my table. More than 100 groups were active those days and I would get a phone call every 15 minutes,” he says.
Jameel faced six attacks in addition to couple of kidnappings, the sixth and the last attack on Sep 7, 1995 in which a burqa-clad woman brought a parcel bomb to his office, killed his colleague Mushtaq Ali and injured him and another photographer Habibullah Naqash.
The BBC asked Jameel to leave along with his wife for London for treatment of his perforated eardrum. He spent six months in London and on return 18 months in Delhi before resuming work with the Asian Age in Srinagar.
Jameel says the attack was planned to shut a voice that was speaking truth. “I know the attack was carried out by Army through Ikhwanis. They had exhausted all other ways, threats, offers, and what not. The bomb was made by an Army major. They wanted to kill me. When I survived they pressurised BBC to throw me out,” he says.
Jameel says they even tried to influence BBC people who didn’t budge and assured them that all the editorial decisions are made in London and Jameel has nothing to do with it. “BBC south Asian chief correspondent met everyone except the then governor Krishna Rao. After that I was asked to be cautious,” he recalls.
When Jameel’s Delhi-based BBC colleague Andrew Whitehead asked him to call back from an unidentified number, he was surprised. All his phones were being taped. “Mushtaq Ali took me to his friend’s house and we called him back. I was shocked when he asked me to get an anticipatory bail as I was shown involved in Jan 26, 1995 blast case,” says Jameel.
The ‘pressure’ on BBC made his work there difficult. After being called to London and his stay in Delhi he was asked to ‘discontinue’.
Jameel had gained so much popularity in Kashmir that it once landed him in Army custody.
On June 2, 1990, Army picked up Jameel from his residence at 7 in the morning. Blindfolded, Jameel was shipped to Uri. “They let me go after a few hours with apologies saying someone had mislead them,” he recalls.
“Actually a group of 13 boys had been arrested while ex-filtrating. One of the boys told army that his chief had instructed him to meet Yusuf Jameel in Srinagar.
“I didn’t know why he said so but one day after one and a half years a boy came and introduced himself as Ayub. He was getting married and had come with invitation card. He said the army was planning to kill all the boys. He thought if I came to know about their arrest they wouldn’t be killed as I was someone who was not afraid of them (army),” says Jameeel adding that he could only laugh.
Another time Jehad force militant organisation asked Jameel to leave the valley within 48 hours.
“They accused me of involvement in political process with Rajesh pilot whom I had never met. Again a Senior IB officer wanted me to give them a daily diary for which they were ready to pay me huge amount but I did not agree to,” he recalls.
Jameel somehow has become synonymous with fearless reporting. The iconic journalist is reporting for the Asian Age, Voice of America and many other organisations. He is also writing a book on his experiences.
He has received international press freedom award in 1996, South Asian Free Media Association best reporter award in 2005. In 1989 he won Mulk Raj Saraf award for outstanding news reporting.
His family suffered too. “My father suffered first heart attack after Mushtaq Ali’s death. Mother went through depression. My wife never asked me to quit (journalism) but suffered,” says Jameel.