Lenses Versus Guns In Kashmir


Shahid Tantry

ON November 23, 2011 a Photo-Journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir was beaten up by the cops. Kashmir, one of the world’s heaviest military zones has witnessed an armed insurgency since late 1980s, the civil uprisings in 2008 and 2010. The media has affected in Kashmir in both its armed insurgency period and mass civil uprising. Journalists here are beaten, assaulted, and detained without any charge.  

I will tell my own story, how the fourth pillar of democracy is kicked with boots, guns, assaulted, thrashed, dragged, detained and then locked like a ‘criminal’ in a lock up.

It was a cloudy morning of winter. I left my home for Press Colony,Srinagar for my daily routine work. It was a Friday and transport was off because of a Strike called by pro freedom leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani against the detention of minors.  People were observing strike with roads presenting deserted look, while few Vehicles were seen plying. Most of the offices of news and media organizations are located in Press Colony. It is a favorite spot for people to register protest as they get good coverage here but today it was calm in Press colony. No protest by people or any organization. It was unusual calm. As the time arrived, I offered Friday prayers in mosque situated nearby, and after completing my prayers; I went to Maisuma and clicked some shots.

I left to Saraf Kadal – a downtown locality of Srinagar, famous and epicenter for Anti-India clashes and protests. My friend Showkat Shafi – who is also a photojournalist, was accompanying me. We went on a motorcycle and reached there at 3:25 PM. There were heavy clashes going on between stone throwing youth and paramilitary CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir Police. We parked our motorcycle and started our professional duty. There was chaos. For a moment I was unable to understand. The police and paramilitary had surrounded the stone throwing youth from every side and they started to run for safety. I was from the side of forces.

Suddenly some CRPF jawans came and started beating me with Bamboo sticks. They kicked me with their long leather boots, assaulted with gun butts. One of the men among them broke my head with a brick. I was being thrashed and assaulted by CRPF men, top police officials who include North city Superintendent of Indian Police Showkat Hussain Shah, Station House Officer (SHO) Iqbal Shah of Nowhatta Police Station arrived and they started abusing photo-journalists.

“Now you will see what Nowhatta police station means,” said Iqbal Shah, in an angry voice. I was taken to Police Station Nowhatta in an armored police vehicle and we were accompanying with many Minor stone throwers in that police Vehicle. On that day 53 youths were arrested. I was thinking within myself that what is the reason behind my detention?  And instantly the answer came into my mind. Before a month I took photographs of minors, who were arrested by police on charges of stone throwing. They were presented in court and were handcuffed. I did my professional job by clicking there pictures, which irked police officials and from that day I was threatened of dire consequences.

When I reached police station Nowhatta, SHO asked, “What is your profession,” I answered, “I am a Photo journalist.” “What is your name?” he questioned. I replied “My name is Shahid Tantray”.

As I said Shahid Tantray, he became aghast. He went into his room and took out batons and started beating me. He broke my camera and its lenses. “Now you will click the photographs of minors”, he said in a loud angry voice after breaking my camera. They snatched my mobile phone, wallet, belt and other articles. An officer of paramilitary CRPF came and said “You people want Azadi (Freedom)?”I replied “yes I want Azadi in my work and profession’

One of stone thrower brought tea for me, which his family had brought for him. I was taking sip from the tea but my ankle and neck was paining which was unbearable for me, blood was oozing from my head. I was amazed with the courage of minor boys who were detained there. They were in a same condition. But these boys were encouraging me; they cleaned the blood which was on my face and head. They lifted me and put blankets on me.

At 8:15 P.M one of the police man came and said, “Whoever is injured, we will take them to hospital in  Police Control Room,” while addressing boys who were in lock-up which included me as well. A police officer came there who was Munshi, he was bearded and when I saw him, I thought he is will be a good person and will offer sympathy but my entire guess was wrong. Munshi (Police official) ordered cops to handcuff us all. They handcuffed, and I told the Munshi “Munshi Ji –I am not a criminal. I am a journalist, I have not been booked under article 302 (under 302 one is booked for murder)”. But my words were unbearable. Police man slapped me and dragged me into a vehicle. He started abusing me and Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It was strange like I was an activist of Geelani’s party. I was taken to Police control room for treatment. I was given medical treatment. I was again handcuffed and they took me back to police station Nowhatta.The minor boys were also taken to police control room for the treatment. Their parents had come to see them, but they were detained by police and minor boys were freed.

I pleaded one of the father of minor boy to for cell phone so that could contact my friend as well my mentor – Danish Ismail. I told him that I am detained. He replied “Don’t worry I am coming”.

At 10:25, Danish Ismail came. Before his arrival, I was feeling alone, strange and helpless. But as I saw him, all these kind of feelings instantly went away. The SHO told him “you can take him”. The Munshi came and I was taken out from lock up. He brought my broken camera and lenses and said “you can take, this is your camera’.  I told him that this is broken, he replied “Sahab (SHO) was angry and now take this”.  I told them that when I was brought here my camera was in a working condition. I want my camera.  He replied back “If you want your camera, then you must leave your phone, wallet and other articles here”. Danish told me to leave these things here and let’s go.

Danish took directly me for treatment to Bone and Joint hospital, Barzulla and doctors X-rayed my body parts. The X-ray was showing fracture in my neck and ankle. An Iron nail was stuck in my right elbow. Compounder told doctor “Doctor saheb he has puncture “I said to him that what is this ‘puncture’?

He said “It is a medical term we use when there is a hole on some part of the body”. They treated me and then I was shifted for SKIMS hospital till 11.30 p.m. I was shifted to SKIMS.

Later, I approached the concerned Superintendent of Police Showkat Hussain Shah who assured in return for due compensation and informed that the camera was seized under section 525 and would release after the orders of Tehsildar (magistrate). “You can also claim the benefits of insurance as well”, SP informed and I replied I don’t need compensation I need my camera.

Earlier, Chief Minister had promised to probe the matter.  He, in his speech at Jammu had asked media persons to adopt the uniform code as would help the security forces to differentiate between protesters and media persons. Police, when they attacked me they knew I was the journalist but they still broke my professional equipment’s and used force against me.

After all that happened, one thought kept revolving in my mind, “what am I?”. Why was I beaten? Hard to answer of all this for months after that incident, I now knows what am I? Only after getting thrashed by cops without any reason I am now aware what my Job Is? I am now aware who I am? Yes, I am a Journalist because I believe there are people out there who have stories that the world needs to hear. Yes, I am a Journalist because I feel stories of war, injustice and cruelties that we would find hard to believe and hard to hear would be reported and I am born to do same. Yes, I am a Journalist because I know truth has been fed to people; to the people who are unaware of what Kashmir is? Yes, I am a journalist because I am one. Yes, I don’t tell stories but as they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Such assaults have been taking place from past 65 years here. The valuable media has been shaken by such disheartening incidents. But as a Journalist I feel I have not done anything wrong. It is my duty to bring the truth at any cost to the public. These acts might continue to happen but I have no regrets. Journalists can’t be quite in Kashmir.

Shahid Tantry is a Kashmir based photojournalist, he wrote this article for Kashmir Observer. Feedback at tantray12@gmail.com

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