By Shahid Tantray
[I] have been thinking about writing this for a while now. Yes, it’s not from any huge disasters but among one of my harsh experiences. Experiences in Kashmir where I report from.
I am a photojournalist from Indian administered Kashmir, but before anyone starts to think what’s a big deal to work as a photojournalist in Indian administered Kashmir as many photojournalists have even worked in Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and other violent area’s where rockets have whiskered down their neck but believe me Kashmir is all together a different place in itself. The most militarized place on earth where you are forced to report the opposite of the actual happenings, where media and press is being curbed and where an ordinary photojournalist like me can be beaten up, assaulted and then lodged into a cell without any charge, anytime. This is Kashmir. This is where from I report.
I am a photojournalist; a digital storyteller, but today I will be only a story teller. No cameras, no video recorders, but only a story. A story where the fourth pillar of democracy is kicked with boots, gun butts, assaulted, thrashed, dragged, beaten up, imprisoned; all because truth is being captured. A story of the same day and same month but exactly a year back. A story of a story teller; a story of a photojournalist.
It was a cloudy winter morning. Weather was harsh. I left home for Press Colony, in Lal Chowk, for my daily routine work. It was a Friday and transport was off from roads because of a strike call given by pro-freedom leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani against the detention of minors. Roads were deserted with only a few vehicles to be seen.
I reached press colony in the mid-afternoon. Atmosphere in the colony was calm. As press colony was always favorite spot for protests. But on that day there were no protests of any group in the colony. I offered Friday prayers in a mosque in the heart of the city and after completing my prayers I went to Maisuma to click some pictures there.
I came back to the colony and was enjoying tea in a tea-stall which is located in the middle of the colony where journalists often meet. Sky was full of clouds and rain was to be expected any time.
In the meantime, I left for Saraf Kadal and went on a motor-cycle with my friend Showkat Shafi. I reached Saraf Kadal at 3:25 P.M and at that time stone throwing was on. I started to perform my professional duty and started clicking shots.
As I was clicking photograph’s, CRPF personnel came and started beating with me bamboo sticks, kicked with boots, gun butts, and one of the CRPF men hit my head with a brick. Blood oozed from my head.
In the meantime, Superintendent of Police, Showkat Hussain Shah, Station House Officer (SHO), Iqbal Shah came and used abusive language against all photojournalists.
“Now you will see what Nowhatta police station means,” he said, in angry voice.
I was taken to police station Nowhatta in a police vehicle and we were accompanied by many minor stone throwers. That day 53 youths were arrested. Police used many derogatory words against us.
When I reached the police station, SHO asked, “What is your profession.” I answered, “I am a photojournalist.”
“What is your name?” he questioned.
I replied, “My name is Shahid Tantray”.
I was thrown in a lock-up with other boys who were arrested on the charges of stone throwing.
One of stone throwers brought tea for me which his family had brought for him. I was taking sips from the tea-cup but my ankle and neck was paining which was unbearable for me.
My health condition was very bad. I was unable to stand on my legs.
At 8:15 PM one of the policemen came. “Whoever is injured, we will take them to hospital in police control room,” police man said while addressing boys who were in lock-up which included me also.
They handcuffed me and I asked the policeman, “I am not a criminal. I am a journalist”.
But my answer pitched them. Police man slapped me and dragged me into a vehicle.
From police control room, I was shifted to Barzulla hospital and doctors X-rayed my body parts in which ankle and neck was showing fracture. I was shifted to SKIMS hospital till 11.30 p.m and my whole family was with me. My mentor and well-known photo journalist of valley, Danish Ismail was also with me during that time. My father was weeping and tears were coming down.
Next day, I was discharged from the hospital but I was bed-ridden for a month.
After all what happened, only this thought kept revolving my mind, what am I? Why was I beaten?
I got an answer to the latter one, every time I posed the question to myself; because I was a Kashmiri, but the former one always made me curious. It was unanswerable at times.
Hard to answer of all this for months after that incident, I now know what am I? Only after getting thrashed by cops without any reason I am now aware what my job is? I am now aware who I am?
Yes, I am a journalist because I believe there are people out there who have stories that the world needs to hear. Yes, I am a journalist because I feel stories of war, injustice and cruelties that we would find hard to believe and hard to hear would be reported and I am born to do same. Yes, I am a journalist because I know truth has to be fed to people; to the people who are unaware of what Kashmir is? Yes, I am a journalist because I am one.
Yes, I don’t tell stories but as they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Yes, I am a photojournalist from Indian administered Kashmir.
I am a digital story teller.
Shahid Tantray is a photojournalist based in Kashmir.