After the shocking murder of veteran journalist and Editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, state of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have come into question. The state of scribes in J&K has been fragile for many years. Journalists in general and female reporters in particular have been under all kinds of threats when reporting from ground zero.
Female journalists are unsafe in Jammu and Kashmir because:
> State and society are conservative, don’t applaud women in journalism
>They are trolled on grounds of religion
>Criticism comes in different forms such as being Kashmiri or specifically Kashmiri Pandits
>Locals, outside journalists have common threats from terrorism
>Absence of common associations for journalists, that can have a bigger voice have led to fragmented media
Journalists have to deal with fringe groups, are watched by terrorists, face political pressures and more,but women journalists face resistance from their own community as well. Female scribes share that natives of the conflict-prone valley don’t consider journalism as a great profession for women because it gets them out of their homes, and put women in the frontlines of violence.
We are already living in a society that is dealing with long years of conflict. There is always a restriction when it comes to women taking up journalism – Safina Nabi
IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE
Freelance journalist Safina Nabi who works from Srinagar spoke to SheThePeople.TV about how new age journalism has forced everyone to push boundaries to get the story. Women journalists in Kashmir often reported from print media in the early days but now have to venture out to broadcast or digicast, just like every where else.
“We are already living in a society that is dealing with long years of conflict. There is always a restriction when it comes to women taking up journalism. In Kashmir, we as a society are patriarchal and conservative in nature. People believe that Islam for women is like they should stay inside the four walls of their houses,” Nabi says of how journalism is viewed in the valley. Nabi contributes to Rising Kashmir as well as other publications like India Spend and Tehelka.”But women are trying to change such mindset in Kashmir by bringing in our own narrative,” she adds.
REPORTING DURING CONFLICT
Senior journalist Mahrukh Inayat who has covered Jammu and Kashmir since 2003, feels that the valley is one of the most challenging places to report from. The fact that you are a ‘local’ does help in terms of access but other than that it’s equally perilous for all, said Inayat.
She feels that safety concerns have altered in the sense that in the earlier years of the strife you had a clearer idea of how to safeguard yourself. “For instance if there was an encounter there would always be a safe zone for journalists. With stone pelting incidents gaining ground, the whole nature of how the conflict is playing out has changed. There are no longer too many safety zones. Now with Mr Bukhari’s death a whole new dimension has opened up and one really doesn’t know where danger is lurking,” added Inayat, who has covered elections, floods and encounters in the state.
PHOTOJOURNALIST MASRAT ZAHRA CASE
Only a few months back, photojournalist from Kashmir’s Srinagar Masrat Zahra reportedly received threats online for posting a photograph of her covering an operation by armed security personnel in Kachdoora, Shopian district of the same state. Netizens shared the image widely portraying her as an informer and spy.
She posted the picture on 15 May, 2017 on Facebook around 45 days after she had actually taken it on 1st April, 2017. She posted the picture captioned ‘Gun Vs. Camera’ so late because she was in hospital for treatment due to the injuries she received while covering the encounter. Then her friends started sharing the image and after a few days she saw it floating on the internet with the title of Mukhbir (informer) on it because Indian army was all around her in the picture.
Since then, Zahra is facing vilification on the internet. This is an example of how images and words can be taken out of context to target a journalist. And the kind of nationalistic fervour things take just because the reporter and reporting is from Kashmir.
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BEING WOMAN, BEING KASHMIRI PANDIT
You are targetted even more if you belong to the Kashmiri Pandit community for example. Times of India reporter Aarti Tikoo Singh began working in Kashmir as a journalist at a time when no other women newspaper reporters were around she says. “But the more unique aspect of my experience as a journalist in Kashmir was the historical and political baggage that my surname carried in the Valley.”
As a woman journalist with a Kashmiri Pandit surname, who traveled a lot and met several random people on the ground, abduction and rape by terrorists was always a concern – Aarti Tikoo Singh
Tikoo’s family had fled Kashmir in 1990 after terrorist insurgency broke out and religious minority community of Kashmiri Pandits became direct targets. Some of the Kashmiri Pandit women were raped before they were killed in the early 1990s.
While working in the field, it remained a concern as some people showed hostility to my return as a journalist and my regular visits -Aarti Tikoo Singh
She said that when she went back to the valley after a gap of 12 years, as a journalist, her family feared that she might get targeted by terrorist groups for being both a woman and a Kashmiri Pandit.
“While working in the field, it remained a concern as some people showed hostility to my return as a journalist and my regular visits. As a woman journalist with a Kashmiri Pandit surname, who traveled a lot and met several random people on the ground, abduction and rape by terrorists was always a concern. However, during the early 2000s, one of the constant fears was getting caught in an encounter or getting blown up in bomb blasts and suicide missions of terrorists. Going out for late night coverage of incidents was always a dangerous proposition because neither the security forces nor the terrorists expected a woman journalist around,” added Singh.
“We don’t have a women’s association in Kashmir, in fact two three years back we did not have any association for journalists in general. Now there are small groups of editors and journalists but when it comes to journalists in Kashmir but there needs to be a guiding union of women journalists specifically of Kashmir – Safina Nabi
NOBODY IS SAFE
Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil who works with Republic TV as their Special Correspondent from Srinagar feels that every journalist working in Kashmir faces dire and severe safety issues. “The situation in Kashmir is such that you will never know when, how and where they will target you,” said Fazil.
“After Shujaat Bukhari’s killing it is an open secret that nobody in Kashmir is safe.”
Fazil also talked about how the state should be more awake to provide security to women journalists in Kashmir. “You have to take certain strict security measure and restrict the space given to militants who are roaming openly. Militants have been there in Kashmir from last three decades but past few years we are seeing a completely different scenario,” she said.
CREATE A GUILD?
Safina Nabi says it’s high time journalists get together and focus on having an association for a bigger voice. “We don’t have a women’s association in Kashmir, in fact two three years back we did not have any association for journalists in general. Now there are small groups of editors and journalists but when it comes to journalists in Kashmir there needs to be a guiding union of women journalists specifically of Kashmir. I am a part of Network of Women in Media, India but how many people in Kashmir are supporting us?,” Nabi states.
It’s clear not only are journalists targetted in the valley, being a female scribe makes your situation even worse with both seen and unseen pressures from state, society and terrorism. Even as the last few decades have seen more and more media persons report from J&K, and the state of Kashmir has produced homegrown journalists, the threats are permanently lurking around the corner. We need to put more spotlight on the state of media and think of collective action to ensure the messengers are not shot. Journalism is not a crime.