A day after becoming the latest victims of dreaded pellet-guns, three of the five injured photojournalists are back to work; to the same very place – Shopian – where they all fell apart, in pain and agony, with their beloved cameras lying on the ground.
“Imagine, a fireball being continuously rolled over your eyes,” is how Nisar ul Haq explains the “torture” he went through last night – “I had to frequently splash cold water to my damaged eye. I couldn’t sleep the entire night.”
Yet, at 7:30 in the morning, Haq, with a bandaged left-eye, was out of his house. The pellets did not put him down and he went on to cover three militant funerals, just like he would do it on any other day.
Along with Haq, four more on-duty photojournalists were hit by pellets fired by the armed forces – Waseem Andrabi from Hindustan Times, Junaid Gulzar from Kashmir Essence, Mir Burhan from Asian News Network and local journalist Qaisar Mir.
They were covering the stone-pelting clashes near the gunfight site in Shopian district’s Heff Shirmal village on Tuesday.
“The distance between the civilian crowd and the forces was at least half a kilometre,” recalls Haq, while narrating the sequence of the events.
In a group of around six, the journalists decided to cross towards the spot where the forces had taken guard.
“The youth had stopped pelting stones during the time we were crossing. While running towards the forces’ end, we put up our cameras as a sign and shouted we are from the press,” he says.
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And the next minute, when Haq opened his eyes to figure out what happened, he was lying on the ground with pellets on his face. “I was only able to see from my right eye, the left one was unbearably burning,” he says.
While Haq was hit in the eye, HT’s Andrabi received six pellets on his forehead, lips, and neck.
Andrabi is the same journalist who was lauded by Director General of CRPF after his photograph in which he was helping an injured trooper had surfaced on the internet in November, last year.
Now two months past the incident, the award-winning photojournalist had a narrow escape with pellets barely missing his eyes.
While Andrabi couldn’t resume work immediately, Burhan Mir, hit by three pellets on his face and five on his left hand, was out on job. Like Haq, he was also seen on-field covering the funerals, a day after the assault.
“We were forces’ direct targets – aimed and shot,” Burhan says.
Another journalist, who did not back down and resumed work immediately, was Qaisar Mir, who sustained a head-injury. Qaiser had to take two painkillers in the morning in order to get going.
While Junaid Gulzar, who was hit by five pellets in his right palm, had to take the day-off.
There was no direct mention of the incident by the police in their statement issued post the gunfight in which three militants were killed. “Five cases of injuries were reported and three of them were discharged after preliminary medical attention,” the police spokesman said, with no mention of a probe or an inquiry into the incident.
Attacks on journalists in Kashmir aren’t unusual. Last year, in October, 10 on-duty journalists were beaten by the armed forces near a gunfight site in Srinagar.
Since the anti-India uprising in 1989, 19 journalists have been killed, with the assassination of veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari last year, being the most recent case of fatal attack on journalists.
Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), an international body for journalists has called upon the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into yesterday’s incident.
“We call on Indian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation on this blatant attack on press freedom. #JournalismIsNotACrime,” RSF tweeted.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, too, wrote on Twitter: “Highly unfortunate reports about journalists injured, including some with pellet injuries, while covering clashes in South Kashmir. I condemn this incident. The indiscriminate use of force, often without any accountability, will always be counterproductive.”
Urging Governor Satya Pal Malik and Director General of Police Dilbag Singh to initiate a magisterial inquiry into the incident, Kashmir Press Photographers Association said: “A journalist’s identity is a camera and a notebook. Even when two cameras were hanging from the shoulders of each of these journalists, the security forces fired pellets on them.”
Apart from termed as an outrageous attack on the photojournalists discharging their professional duties in Kashmir, Tuesday’s assault is seen as another trigger-happy attack on Press Freedom in Kashmir.
And that’s exactly how Kashmir’s celebrated cartoonist, Bashir Ahmad Bashir, aka BAB portrayed it.
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