The skewed coverage of Kashmir floods by Delhi media generated massive ire and suspicion against journalists, preventing even local media from recording their own history, reports Muhammad A Raafi
Photojournalists in Kashmir are a daredevil lot. They are used to situations that demand extraordinary courage and grit. But 2014 floods were different. They not only braved gushing waters but angry natives too to chronicle flood. Perhaps that is why a mere mention of September 2014 saddens Javed Dar, photojournalist working with Xinhua, China’s official News Agency.
“We missed to record our history,” Javed grieves. During floods, lot of events couldn’t receive the media coverage as photographers had to retreat in face of an irate public. Reason? The coverage by the Delhi based media that sought to glorify the “magnanimity” of armed forces has upset people across the spectrum.
People alleged that it overlooked massive rescue efforts by the local youth who risked their lives to save the marooned flood-victims. The “partial” coverage generated both fury and disappointment among Kashmiris leading them to eye everyone involved with media with suspicion.
“We used to hide our cameras in empty sandbags and shot only when it felt safe,” Javed recalls who is working since last 12 years. “Once, while covering the rescue work by locals, who were evacuating pregnant ladies and new born infants from Lal Ded hospital, I was punched many times.”
Assuming that Javed worked for the Delhi media, local rescuers didn’t let him take pictures.
As floods roared their way in, Naqash got trapped in his Press Enclave residence for four days and three nights. “It couldn’t have been worse,” he says.
Next day Mehraj-ud-Din, a fellow photojournalist called Naqash to check if he is alright. “By his tone I could sense that he was in trouble,” Mehraj says. Naqash had been sobbing and saying that this could be the last time “we are talking.”
Mehraj was among a few photojournalists who could work on September 7, the day Srinagar was submerged. “It was chaotic everywhere. It was impossible to move from one place to another. We hung on a truck’s back to reach Bemina,” recalls Mehraj.
After crossing many hurdles, Mehraj and his team managed to reach the Srinagar airport where an army officer agreed to let them board his helicopter to cover floods. “But due to the objections by Delhi media personnel we were disallowed.”
With mobile and internet services down, it was impossible for journalists to send dispatches to their respective media houses.
However, luckily, the broadband connection at Mehraj’s home was working. “I took nearly twenty journalists to my home and we started working from there. We would go to the field during the day and return in the evening and dispatch whatever we had covered. They stayed at my home for 7 days,” he says.
There were instances when Mehraj and his friends had to face public ire “Many times my camera was snatched.”
But keeping up the hope, Mehraj and his team continued covering whatever little “history” they could while squandering most of it.
Naqash’s account, however, differs. As soon as he slipped out from his flooded residence, he immediately rushed to fellow journalist Aman Farooq’s home and got back to work.
“We were appreciated by the locals for working tirelessly. We didn’t face objections from anyone. People cooperated and even the local rescuers allowed us to travel in their boats to cover the devastation.”
Naqash’s friend Aman, however admitted that due to filtered coverage by the Delhi media, people did initially become hostile, but once their credentials were established, they would let them work.
Many photojournalists express contentment with the way people used their mobile phones to shoot videos and later shared them on social media. “They covered something that even professional journalists wouldn’t have been able to cover.”
Bilal Bahadur, a photojournalist who works with a weekly magazine, feels it was really difficult to even take out the camera. Bilal blames Delhi media’s “distorted” coverage of floods for such reaction from public. “People would get angry at the sight of a camera. Many journalists were abused and even thrashed by locals,” says Bilal.
For first three days Bilal couldn’t click even a single picture fearing he might be attacked by people.
Once safe, Farooq along with his colleagues tried to reach uptown areas, but failed. “Then we made a detour through Chattabal area. We wanted to see what has happened to Lal Chowk, Rajbagh etc.”
On their way, Farooq and his friends made many attempts to click pictures but faced serious objections from the locals.
“Some upper-class people didn’t want to be filmed or photographed because they felt it would be insulting to them,” says Farooq, adding that they were not even allowed to photograph inside mosques where many elite class families had taken refuge.
A major part of our history has remained grossly uncovered. We cannot revisit those times now, Farooq says. “It would have been great source of information to our future generations.”
We keep hearing about floods that had swept everything probably a century ago. But, we curse those times because people didn’t have resources to capture things that time, Mehraj says. “But how will we respond to our future generations. In spite of being loaded with modern gadgets we couldn’t capture the major part of floods,” he asks. “Will they not curse us?”