"In order to avoid abuse & get beaten up, I showed them my ID"-The Reality of Being a Journalist in Kashmir
Most of the time journalists in Kashmir feel as if they are caught between the devil and the deep sea
On January 27, 2018, two civilians were killed and another injured critically in an incident of firing by army men who had been attacked with stones by youth in southern District Shopian.
Killings and the reaction to them by ordinary people after any such incident is not new in conflict-hit Kashmir. However, the reality of being a Kashmiri journalist is something most outside the state don't know about. Curbs on journalistic activities have increased manifold since the 2010 mass uprising of people in Kashmir.
The paramilitary forces deployed in the region rarely honour press cards and the curfew passes that are issued every time authorities announce curfew. Time and again as I traveled around Srinagar city, CRPF personnel deployed in the area waved their long sticks at me from a distance, to convey that I should go back. None of them bothered to listen to my explanations for being there at the time.
Sometimes you are amused when police personnel at a naka (checkpoint) ask you to show your identity card and then, while staring at your press card, ask your name and occupation.
Some will ask you to read what is written on your card – this is a display of ego, demanding that you obey as directed and that argument can result in a thrashing for you.
Police personnel often stop a vehicle at a naka and ask its passengers to get out and walk to the other side of the barrier, identity cards in hand.
In a bizarre incident in 2014, while coming to work in Srinagar from my home town, Shopian, on a day when Kashmir was observing a shutdown, the police stopped the vehicle I was traveling in at Pantha Chowk and asked everybody including the driver to get out.
In order to avoid abuse and get beaten up, I showed them my identity card – the press card of the organisation I was then associated with - but that didn't satisfy the officials. One of the policemen held my arm and asked me to show him "any government card". Unfortunately, I had forgotten mine at home that day.
Another policeman sitting in a chair and listening to our conversation said, "Meri samaj main nahin ata tum press walay apne aap ko kya samajhte ho. Tum ko kya lagta hai - yahan tumhari marzi chalegi?Jo bola gaya wahi karo!" (I don't understand what you press people consider yourselves to be. Do you think you can do whatever you want? Do as you were told!).
It didn't stop there. He grabbed me by the collar and told me to go sit in the vehicle and commanded: "Do whatever you want to and write whatever you wish to write against the police."
I knew that about eighteen journalists have been reported killed since 1990 in Kashmir, shot by identified and unidentified people. Journalists were often beaten to a pulp by the police and paramilitary forces while performing their duties across the length and breadth of Kashmir. So the behavior of the policeman that day didn't surprise me.
As a journalist I don't feel secure in Kashmir. One the one hand the common masses label us 'agents' and beat us up for what they call 'siding with the state' and not showing the true picture of the Kashmir conflict to outsiders.
On the other hand, the forces beat us for allegedly causing the situation to deteriorate further by reporting whatever happens in tense situations.
On two different occasions I have been told directly by stone pelters that "You people (journalists) inform the police about our activities for hefty amounts of money".
In 2016, while coming back from southern Tral village, my friends and I were chased by a group of angry young men writing azadi slogans on the road. While I managed to escape, one of my friends was roughed up for what the young men said they were doing: filming them and providing the video footage to police later in exchange for money.
I wish the general public and the forces alike would bother to gauge our emotions and realise that journalists too feel bad after every death in Kashmir. But we have to develop a sense of duty even under such conditions.
A question everybody would like to ask is: Why don't you approach the higher-ups in the police force every time an untoward incident like this happens? The answer is simple: Police officials assure action each time, but no policeman has ever been made accountable for misbehaviour with a journalist.
The latest but not the least addition to the list of woes for a journalist in Kashmir is the blocking of the internet by the authorities to cut access to sources.
A media gag is no surprise if you are a Kashmiri journalist and after every such step by the authorities, the primary concern is a job cut – we lose our livelihood for no fault of ours.