Being a Journalist in Curfewed Kashmir is Fraught With Risk and Danger

Even the curfew passes issued to journalists by the government fail to impress security forces who often react with force

Saturday, August 27, marked the 50th day of consecutive curfew in Kashmir. In the last 50 days, Kashmiris have gone through many highs and lows of life. While officially the 2016 ‘uprising’ is being either labeled as Pakistan-sponsored or by only 5% miscreants, unofficially Kashmir has been put under a ruthless security blanket, which almost many Indians are unaware of.

On August 22, Lal Chowk, the city centre of Srinagar was again put under the Border Security Forces (BSF). Last time the BSF had taken over the city center was twelve years ago. The force came to be known for many ills during the 1990s in the state; it remains one of the most dreaded forces among the ordinary people of Kashmir.

As per reports, the paramilitary forces (BSF) have occupied 20 government and semi-government schools besides 50 vital government installations across Kashmir. The BSF had conducted anti-militancy operations in Kashmir from 1991 to 2004 when they were replaced in Srinagar by CRPF and moved to their primary duty of guarding the borders.

Many amateur videos of government forces that have surfaced on social media, especially on Facebook, show forces ransacking residential houses and damaging private property. However, the behavior of the government forces towards the media fraternity of Kashmir has also not remained any different in these last 50 days.

The forces hardly honour the curfew passes issued for journalists issued by the district magistrate Srinagar. In a bizarre incident, while going back home from my office at nine p.m, a force contingent of almost 10 to 15 men stopped me in the posh area of Rambagh.

In order to avoid getting beaten up the forces, I showed all my documents including the I-card of my organization. But it did not satisfy them. They asked for my curfew pass. I immediately showed the pass. The armed personnel retorted back, “Modi government ka pass dikhao, yeh pass nahi chaley ga (Show us the pass of Modi government, this pass won’t work)”.

The reply of the armed personnel did not astonish me because only a few days back my colleague had been roughed up by an IPS officer in another posh area of Srinagar. If an IPS officer could not honour the pass issued by the district magistrate, how could I expect a sepoy to do so?  I tried to negotiate and after almost 20 minutes, the forces let me pass through.

The journalists in Kashmir walk on the razor’s edge. On one hand the people label us agents for siding with the state and not telling the truth and showing the “real” picture, while on the other hand the government forces rough up and harass us, labeling us Pakistan or Hurriyat sympathisers who are adding fuel to the deteriorating situation.

This sometimes leads to terrifying situations. On July 10, three of us — I, along with two more photojournalists — were beaten to pulp at SMHS hospital by enraged people who first labeled us as CID agents and then for working for Indian media houses.

Night curfews add to our daily problems. My two senior editors at Rising Kashmir, Faisul Yaseen and Adil Masood, met with an ugly incident on the evening of August 18. Even before they could reach near the barricade at Sanat Nagar, forces standing there yelled at them, “either go back or we will shoot”.

On August 21, while travelling back home, three journalists were stopped by the paramilitary Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) troopers who aimed their guns at them. The forces reportedly shouted at the scribes and asked them to go back. Showing the soldiers curfew passes made them even more furious.

When journalists try to reach out to the seniors of the armed forces, their response is always positive; they assure us that action will be taken against the erring armed forces, but so far we have seen nothing on that front. When forces have killed people, expecting justice for a mere beating or roughing up is hardly likely.

Even female journalists are spared. On August 17, a strict night-curfew was imposed in Srinagar district. While on the way back home, Sumaiya Yosouf, my colleague at Rising Kashmir was beaten-up by an IPS officer. After the unfortunate incident, Sumaiya said to me, They (forces) did not listen to me, a female journalist. They harassed and beat me. Imagine what will be the fate of other countless hapless women in other parts of Kashmir who have no voice and are being harassed regularly by the forces.”

At night the journey home after a day’s work can take us through several heavily guarded barricades. At most of them, the fear of getting whisked away or being hit by pellets or a even a bullet is what goes through one’s mind. This is Kashmir in 2016.

Daanish bin Nabi is an Editor with Rising Kashmir