Two Heart Attacks Lay Bare Stressful Lives of Journalists in Kashmir

Two massive cardiac arrests consumed two sound Kashmiri journalists within two months and left the entire fraternity wondering about their stressful lives.

HOURS after senior journalist Muddasir Ali passed away due to a massive heart attack on Friday night at his residence in Chrar-i-Sharief, the debate on the distressed lives of Kashmiri journalists started on social media circles.

Ali was the second journalist who died due to cardiac arrest in the Covid-plagued, and in yet another lockdown-ridden, year in Kashmir.

Earlier, on October 1, Javed Ahmad working with the daily Rising Kashmir, died after suffering a cardiac arrest while he was on way to office from his home in north Kashmir’s Baramulla.

“The hearts of our youthful friends and colleagues are stopping suddenly,” renowned journalist Muzamil Jaleel wrote in his tribute to Ali.

“There is so much grief in our lives. There is so much unbearable pain that we see and feel every day. Living, working, existing is a never ending struggle. And the good among us, those who aren’t numb already, can’t take it anymore. When will we start living again, when will our land stop seeing the frail shoulders of parents carrying the coffins of their young children … when will we resume dying of old age … when will we start telling the happy stories…”

Seconding Jaleel, TV journalist Mir Fareed, said young journalists dying of heart attack is another shocking thing that the fraternity has witnessed in 2020.

“Is it to do with a changed work environment post August 5 or Covid related financial stress or silent Covid itself?” he said.

Journalists in Media Centre

None of the two deceased journalists—who covered stories related to politics, defence and human rights besides raising the issues of daily public interest—had an underlying medical problem that could be linked to their heart attacks.

Many media-men wondered about the twin cardiac arrests in their tribe after condoling the death of their “hale and happy” colleague, Muddasir Ali, on Friday.

Perilous Profession

Experts argue that stress, anxiety, job insecurity, state and non-state pressures that journalists have to face in Kashmir largely contribute to their distressed lives.

“While reporting conflict and violence, journalists become the first responders,” Ufra Mir, a noted Peace Psychologist from the valley, told Kashmir Observer.

“While they stick around and capture stories and voices that are unheard, their own emotions remain unheard at times.”

Practising journalism in Kashmir is akin walking on the razor’s edge, she said.

Journalism requires being on toes continuously, having to deal with uncertain situations constantly, facing traumas, and witnessing death and violence as a daily norm – all this is difficult for any human being, Mir said.

“It becomes rather unhealthy for journalists in Kashmir, who also have to deal with many consequences of reporting from a conflict-zone. I’ve worked with them in my experiential workshops and sessions on emotional wellbeing and self-empathy, who sometimes have never had the luxury to sit down and process their own emotional experiences.”

A journalist holding a poster during protest in Srinagar.

One has to understand that journalists are the same people who also have personal experiences of living and working in conflict zones, she said, and there’s a fine line between their personal and professional lives.

“We all, including journalists, need safe spaces to share, express, de-stress through resilience skills and coping strategies – this is how I have been trying to help them here through many sessions and workshops,” Mir said.

“I have at times been the first person listening to their emotional and mental health issues. I have witnessed some of these journalists breaking-down, calling me at 3 in the morning, crying and sobbing – experiencing emotional pain, numbness, existential crisis and hopelessness. I have had to find urgent clinical psychology or psychotherapy support professionals (from Kashmir or outside) for them in the wee hours, who could then support them in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, panic attacks and other issues.”

A Correlation

Dr. Yasir Rather, Associate Prof. Department of Psychiatry, GMC, sees a correlation between stress and myocardial infarction, aka heart attack.

“Chronic stress raises your stress hormones, which are very unhealthy for the body and can lead to myocardial infarction,” Dr. Rather told Kashmir Observer.

The medico maintained that journalists are the frontline workers, who witness a lot of trauma and are directly connected with conflict—which can have a very negative impact on their psyche.

“Every passing day poses a challenge to them which creates a cycle of continuous stress. But somehow, as a part of their job profile, they’ve accepted it but their health gets affected by it.”

As a result, he said, scribes, perpetually grappling with job insecurity and low-pay, are exposed to stress which leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia and in some cases to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Troubled Tribe

On Muddasir Ali’s sudden and shocking demise, Kashmir’s principal media body, Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG), maintained that the hectic lifestyle of journalists gets all the more complicated in situations like Kashmir.

“A general impression is that the level of anxiety and tension is abnormally high among Kashmir reporters and editors,” the KEG said in a statement.

Covering the violent clashes on streets.

Journalist Anees Zargar, who covers Kashmir for a New Delhi-based web portal, agrees that the recurrent violent events in Kashmir take a mental-toll on media-persons.

“Every week, we’ve to cover a story related to violence in Kashmir,” Zargar told Kashmir Observer. “You go to the spot and meet the victims. You see violence through your eyes. It does affect your mind.”

Journalists in Kashmir, the young scribe said, don’t even get time to detoxify themselves.

“Something bad will happen every other day,” he said.

Zargar who previously worked in New Delhi maintained that it’s very difficult to work in Kashmir.

“After every story of violence journalists cover, the trauma stays in their mind even if they try to forget it,” he said.

“And then you’ve to practice journalism with 2G internet speed, which really frustrates a scribe.”

Journalists protesting internet ban last year.

Seconding Zargar, senior scribe, Peerzada Ashiq, said journalists in Kashmir have to absolve so many layers of helplessness after covering a conflict in their backyards for a long time.

“It impacts your daily life,” Ashiq, who covers Kashmir for the prominent publication The Hindu, told Kashmir Observer.

“The hangover of reporting the conflict and its black shadow remains there in the mind of journalists.”

Recalling a traumatic 2004 car blast incident outside a school in South Kashmir’s Pulwama in which a child died, Ashiq said, “when I visited the school, I saw pieces of human flesh on the child’s question paper scattered on the ground.”

That incident, he said, still haunts him.

“I’m unable to forget it and may grapple it throughout my life.”

Seek Support

Dr. Yasir Rather believes that Kashmiri journalists need to be expressive, and that they should discuss their burdens with family and colleagues, for creating a good social support.

“But unfortunately in Kashmir, we’re unable to deal with the stress,” he said. “It needs ventilation, de-briefing and a proper counselling from mental health professional.”

Since one can’t change how this profession is and what it entails on a daily basis, Ufra Mir said, but journalists can become more aware of their stress levels, take time off whenever necessary, take sleep and rest seriously.

“Constantly being under stress can lead to burn out and emotional breakdowns,” she warned.

“There’s no shame in seeking support. We are all humans in the end. We’re all emotional biologically, and we need self-empathy and care, to function more effectively in our personal and professional lives.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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