In Depth

Kashmiri Women Journalists: Calling it quits even before they start?

After being groomed to be newspersons in different media schools, many women journalists call it quits even before starting their careers in the Valley. Why?

In Srinagar’s Press Colony, a narrow tea stall is often cluttered by the presence of a dozen young male reporters, sipping tea or smoking cigarettes. In this bustling backyard, that keeps resounding with justice campaigns and protests, Kashmiri women reporters are markedly missing.

This every day scene is betraying the very assertion—or maybe assumption—that over the past few years, the number of women journalists working in local media has shot up. But as these young women reporters join as interns, they soon quit the field due to various reasons, one of them being the “access”.

Not wishing to be named, a male reporter says that he has observed a general trend of not finding female reporters in the Whatsapp Newsgroups. “The form of exclusion happens because women journalists are seen as intimidating,” he says, “as reporting is considered a man’s job.”

With years of experience in the field of journalism, Dr Danish Nabi, Assistant Professor, Media Studies in Higher Education Department, offers his own insights on the absence of women journalistic crowd in Kashmir.

“I think the male dominance that also gets into newsrooms is one of the reasons for it,” Dr Danish says. “We are still not used to seeing a woman working equivalently with us.”

Given the unconventional working hours of journalism, the young professor says, women reporters don’t sit in the newsroom to see what happened to their story or how it was edited. “Roughly I can estimate that almost 99 percent of the females working in the field have not seen the evening newsroom atmosphere because of which they are not able to grow in the field or work,” he says.

As a media studies lecturer at Women’s College, Srinagar, the professor says, he would often see his girl students struggling to leave homes for stories. “Even if a girl goes for a Mass Communication degree,” he says, “there is no concept of her working in the field after completing the studies. That’s why later they aren’t assigned beats. While women would be asked to cover Business, Culture, etc, I’ve only seen Sumaiya Yousuf working on a political beat. It was very rare for me.”

For Sumaiya Yousuf, former Defence Correspondent at Rising Kashmir, access was not much of an issue as much as assigning the beat was.

Sumaiya started her career with reporting on Health and Education, while her male contemporaries directly got into reporting on political beats. Covering education was not her first choice but she had to put up with it.

Sumaiya Yousuf

“That’s not to say that there’s something wrong in reporting on education or health but any important development in such beats is assigned to a senior reporter,” she says.

After breaking certain important stories, Sumaiya received criticism and threats from the accused but that never stopped her. “I remember when I broke stories like Sadbhavna or a story on informers, the officials tried to suppress my voice,” she says. “I received a call and the official enquired about my residence and it was an indirect threat.” On the field, during the 2016 uprising, she was abused and threatened by then SDPO Sadder, Amod Ashok Nagpure and his men. “They used very dirty and provocative language,” she recounts. “I considered quitting the profession after that incident.”

While covering the conflict, journalists getting exposed to violence. At least 21 journalists have so far lost their lives because of the conflict in Kashmir, with one of them being a female freelancer.

ALSO READ: #JournalismIsNotACrime: List of Journalists killed and attacked in Kashmir proves otherwise

“All those reporting in a conflict are equally vulnerable regardless of their gender,” says Arshie Qureshi who teaches media studies at Baramulla Degree College. “In case of women, sexual violence is considered to be a pertinent threat but who can rule out the sexual violence on male reporters?”

Assuming that women are more vulnerable in conflict situations like that of Kashmir, they’re assigned beats that aren’t directly related to political affairs. The question, however, remains whether this assumption is valid or not.

Dr Malik Zahra Khalid, Senior Assistant Professor at Media Education and Research Centre, University of Kashmir, believes that the assertion is baseless because often women are not even given a chance to reach a point where the instances of threats or harassment in the field would take place.

In 1995, during her 4th Semester in Mass Communication and Journalism, Dr Zahra had joined an English daily, where she worked for three years before switching to academics. “While I worked, women journalists were never taken seriously. They would assign us off-beat stories thinking that we might not be able to do political stories. Also, the militancy was at its peak. So, probably for our safety, they would not assign us political stories. But then they didn’t also pay well. They would pay us a meagre amount that even a Class IV employee won’t accept. Then I got into academics. My salary was much better. I eventually had to switch. Some people were very cooperative but I eventually had to switch.” But those who continue working in the field had to make peace with its complexities.

Sumaiya says, a female breaking a good story is questioned by her male colleagues.

“When I broke the Tosa Maidan story, I was told that people from the journalism fraternity were thinking that my editor had written the story under my by-line!” she laughs.

Perhaps much of that had to do with Srinagar-based newsrooms’ yet to be evolved culture to accommodate women journalists. “There’re no separate washrooms for females,” Sumaiya says. “At times, it would be embarrassing.”

While Sumaiya is now working outside Kashmir, Shafaq Shah, another female journalist is telling the untold stories on a daily basis in Kashmir.

The first thing that one has to admit, Shafaq says, is that journalism is a male-dominated field. “Then, you’re told you’re an intern and are assigned women-centric stories. You leave home early and reach back late. Then, your family tells you that you’re working too much for peanuts.”

Then, there are social pressures.

Shafaq Shah

“If a doctor comes home late, people understand,” she says. “But if a journalist comes late, people will hurl abuses. Among all my female batch mates, I am the only one working in the field, which is something that needs to be analysed.”

At times, she says, the male counterparts cannot digest the fact that you’re a female and are actually working in the field. “I treat myself as a junior reporter but you cannot let anyone take advantage of you,” Shafaq continues. “I’ve seen females not asking for as much salary as they deserve, when we work equally.”

While many say women do not work like men, Shafaq says, “I have seen my senior colleagues sitting in a chair, talking on the phone and filing a story. I don’t understand phone journalism. Sometimes, it’s okay but you cannot do that all the time. I make it a point to go and meet the person or go on the spot personally before filing a story as understanding body language and gestures are also important.”

At present, Shafaq has the liberty to choose her stories while working on beats like Human Rights, Social Sector, RTI and Information with Greater Kashmir. However, it wasn’t always that way for her, or for many other women journalists she has come across.

“Once women prove themselves, no one questions them but why to prove?” she asks. “If you’re a girl, you’ve to prove that you’re intelligent enough to understand politics or some important documents. That’s why probably females are not given important beats, which force many of them to call it quits.”

 

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