Srinagar police beat up scribe for wearing ‘funky clothes’
Srinagar: Reporting from conflict zones has always been challenging. Journalists have to face heat from multiple stakeholders while staying true to their work and profession. But what if a new scenario of vulnerability is added to the scene? In an alleged display of high handedness and misuse of power, Kaiser Andrabi, a journalist associated with an online news portal The Kashmir Walla, was physically assaulted on Saturday, for reportedly wearing a dress which according to the Jammu and Kashmir police was ‘funky’ in nature.
“I was stopped at a security check post during the afternoon. I was informed that my fellow reporter, Saide Zahoor Shah, sustained injuries while covering clashes at Nowhatta in Downtown. I was going to attend to him. The police seized my press identity card and let me go,” alleged Kaiser.
In the evening around 6:30 pm, Kaiser went to Fateh Kadal Police Station at Downtown, to recollect his press card, which had been seized earlier in the day. When he approached the SHO (Station House Officer), the officer was reportedly displeased by the reporter’s ‘unbuttoned shirt’. “Another policeman tried to put on the buttons of my shirt, I resisted and objected saying that is this how you deal with civilians in Kashmir. The policeman slapped me, and SHO thrashed me with gun-butt,” alleged Kaiser.
While being beaten, he was taunted for wearing a ‘funky attire’ and was reportedly asked by the police officer to imitate a sitting cock. Kaiser’s colleague Anis Wani had accompanied Kaiser to the police station, but he was stopped at the gate. He took to Facebook to narrate the incident, “Yesterday, my colleague’s (Kaiser Andrabi’s) Id card was seized by J&K police and late in the evening, he asked me to come with him so he can take back his card from Fateh Kadel police station. When we went there, the police started humiliating us on the main gate and then they took my phone and told me to wait outside, however, Kaiser went inside to get his card. I could hear the screaming outside the police station while they were beating Kaiser and when I asked the policeman on the main gate about it, he started giving me a moral lecture (very funny) and after that, he asked me to leave and he gave me back my phone and started clicking my pictures. When Kaiser came out of the police station after staying there for an hour or so, the guy was not even in a position to talk and he said he was beaten up because of his clothes.”
This is not a lone incident of journalists attacked for doing their job. Earlier this year, four photojournalists were hit by pellets — Waseem Andrabi from Hindustan Times, Nissar-ul-Haq of Rising Kashmir, Mir Burhan of Asia News Network and Junaid Gulzar of Kashmir Essence News website.
“We were not carrying guns but cameras. Yet they fired pellets at us directly,” narrated Nissar-ul-Haq.
In October 2018, Kaiser, along with his two colleagues namely Saqib Mugloo and Bhat Burhan was detained and beaten by security forces while covering clashes at Nawaab Bazaar in Srinagar. Bhat Burhan, a photojournalist with Kashmir Walla, revealed that mostly photojournalists are attacked in Kashmir as whenever an encounter breaks, photojournalists are usually the first ones to reach the spot. While recalling how he, along with his colleagues, were detained by police from outside his office narrated, “Clashes had broken in Downtown. We were standing outside our office. The policeman came and started thrashing us. We kept showing our press cards, but they didn’t listen to us. They abused and detained us.” After the Editor-in-Chief of Kashmir Walla made calls to the higher authorities, these journalists were released. Burhan feels that security forces are scared of their pictures being clicked as it might become a concern for them.
Xohaib, a photojournalist with Associated Press, was hit by a pellet on his right eye at a very close range of around twenty metres. Like others, he too was covering clashes between protesters and security forces, and when he saw security personnel coming towards him, he raised his hand and showed my camera. “I kept on pleading that I am from the press. I trusted him that he would not fire pellets at me. But he proved me wrong. The pellet hit my right eye. For the first few minutes, I kept crying for help like a dog,” said Xohaib. Even after multiple surgeries, Xohaib’s eyesight couldn’t be restored.
This isn’t Kaiser’s first brush with controversy. Last month, Kaiser reported a story from Pulwama, where two brothers were used as a human shield by the security forces. Kaiser revealed that he had received some calls from unknown numbers, which he believes are from officials of security forces, questioning his audacity to do such a story. He also added by saying that with cases like Shujaat Bukhari, where the culprits haven’t been able to be booked yet, intimidation for journalists is rampant.
“It is done in a systematic way. The attacks on reporters convey that journalists should not go beyond the line that goes against the interest of the state. They want to censor us,” alleged Kaiser.
SHO Fateh Kadal Police Station Mohammed Abbas could not be reached out for comment.
At least 19 journalists have lost their lives since militancy erupted in the 1990s. According to a report by Free Press Kashmir, numerous journalists and photojournalists from various news organisations have been beaten, verbally abused, had their vehicle burned to ashes and were threatened to meet unimaginable consequences for reporting. A research paper by Rubna Reshi titled, “Media and Human Rights: Journalists covering Kashmir”, also highlights upon numerous incidents where journalists have been attacked by security forces.
Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA) has condemned the incident and also expressed its concerns over repeated incidents of harassment and thrashing of journalists by the security forces. KWJA even in its statement has laid out that it would approach Press Council of India (PCI) and international journalism rights bodies regarding increasing assaults on journalists.