Masrat Zahra, a photo-journalist from Kashmir working with a Hong Kong-based Editorial Photo Agency posted a picture of herself covering a gunfight in Shopian district of the valley.
Little did she know that the picture would go viral and she would be labelled a ‘Mukhbir’ (informer).
The picture of the photojournalist was shared by multiple Facebook pages as well as individual profiles with abuses and profanities in the description.
In the picture, Zahra is seen standing amid the armed forces while doing her job. The photo was clicked by a fellow journalist and she uploaded it on Facebook on 15 May, 2018.
May 6 was a Sunday and Zahra wanted to do something different for the day. She had left her home in the morning to click pictures of the floating vegetable market in the Dal Lake. She says she was not expecting any encounters on that day. While coming back, she got to know that militants were trapped in Shopian. She left for the spot from the Press Enclave, Srinagar.
At the gun fight site, she had to face ‘accusations’ from locals too for being a female.
“The locals gathered around me. I was told that we go to the gun fight sites to earn money, making it a business. They asked me to go home. I did not talk to them and went to the gunfight site with a fellow photojournalist,” she recalls adding that they were stuck between the army and the protestors.
“We had to show our cameras to the army. Else, they would have showered us with pellets and from the back, protestors were throwing stones. We met other journalists as well and went ahead,” she says.
That was the time she had started clicking pictures and a fellow photojournalist captured the moment, says Zahra. The media had decided to call it a day when the gunfight had been called off. However, fire in a residential house made them stay back.
“The house in which the militants were staying was set on fire. So, we went back. After aerial firing, we were asked to run for the cover. As soon as I moved back, my foot slipped and I crashed. My trousers tore off and my knees bled. Also, another journalist fell on my shoulder and the joint dislocated,” recalls Zahra.
Her colleagues had offered help. However, she tied a handkerchief around her knee and decided to work as “there was no going back.” Zahra says the locals who earlier had asked her to go back home had then started to come near her, trying to gather information about what was happening on the encounter site.
In Shopian’s Eidgah, the funeral of militant Zubair Turray was about to take place.
“My leg was broken, my shoulder was dislocated and I was clicking pictures with my left hand. I had to wait. I couldn’t go home. I decided to work,” she recalls adding that while coming back the Downtown area of Srinagar was completely shut. The day was not over for her. Her family had been waiting for her.
“I got an X-Ray and dressing done. Then reached back home where I had to listen to my worried family. They had not been able to contact me and had no clue of where I had been as the networks were not working,” she says.
On May 15, while she was going through her photo gallery she came across the picture clicked by her fellow while she was working. She shared the picture on facebook with a caption, “Guns versus Camera.”
“Within no time, someone commented on the picture. I was labelled as an informer. I had just gone downstairs to have dinner and this happened!” she exclaims. She later had gotten texts on Facebook where people were asking her to clarify the issue. She says she took the screenshot of the shared picture and posted it on a group “Valley journalists.”
While some had condemned the issue, she was told that she will have to fight the battle by herself as she is not an Accredited Journalist.
“The President Press Club Committee Farooq Javid Khan told me that for them, I was like a student as I am not a freelance journalist or an accredited journalist,” says Zahra adding that no one in her family so far knows about the rant. However, they will get to know, she believes.
“People shared it without checking facts or going through my profile as to who I am. There is some Kamran Manzoor and Khan Burhan who had first shared it. I texted him and I think he lied to me saying that he is a student and has to go to school,” says Zahra adding that he had immediately changed his profile picture after she had approached him.
“Within no time, Kamran (which might be his fake name) changed his profile picture as it was not going with the screenshot I had seen,” she adds.
After she contacted Manzoor, he said that the picture was already viral and she should forgive him as her ‘lil bro’. As Manzoor began to gauge the gravity of the situation, he pleaded innocence and begged for forgiveness.
While she is facing the abusive comments with her character being assassinated, she says that “probably they have deactivated their accounts now.”
Meanwhile, support has also started to pour in for Zahra. Noted Human Rights defender Khurram Parvez while hailing Zahra’s work said that people without checking facts scandalize anything on social media which should be discouraged.
Award winning photographer Showkat Nanda in his post said that people should not take ‘ignorant posts seriously’.
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