Sajad Gul is having a hard time because of a First Investigation Report in which he was falsely implicated. He had spent most of the second wave of pandemic staying inside his one storey house, taking online classes. About five months ago he was booked for a journalistic piece, shattering his career.
“I have been struggling with depression since the case,” says Gul, a 25-year-old little known reporter in the northern part of Bandipora district in Kashmir. “Initially, I used to scream the entire night, and I was scared. I am also a civil service aspirant and was preparing for competitive exams besides my profession, but my dreams are shattered now. I am pushed to the wall. It pains and drives to the extremes of vengefulness.”
In the first week of February, Gul reported the high-handedness of a government official in a local magazine called “The Kashmirwalla”.
After the story got published, Gul was booked under FIR 12/2021 with sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 447 (punishment for criminal trespassing), and 353 (assaulting public servant).
“My whole family faced the brunt of this intimidation, even my maternal uncle died more with depression than COVID complications. he was like the fatherly figure for me in my father’s absence who died a few years before. I think the repression is in its worst now,” laments Gul.
About three months later, another journalist from Bandipora district, Sajid Raina, was named in an FIR for putting up a picture of 22 children killed 15 years ago in a boat tragedy as his Whatsapp status, captioning it “martyrs of Walur lake”.
The 23-year-old works with Srinagar-based news agency Kashmir News Observer (KNO).
“It was a normal status remembering the children who died that day. One who dies a climactic death in Islam is a martyr; they have a problem with the word martyr,” Raina told Maktoob. “I feel more recently that we are less at liberty to talk about many things. You never know when you will run into a fanatic”.
Gul and Raina echo concerns about the new low in repression and intimidation.
Gul finds the press freedom is depleting from bad to worst. He previously worked with Greater Kashmir, Kashmir’s leading news daily for one and half years. He is now pursuing Masters in Convergent Journalism from the Central University of Kashmir. He missed an exam due to a court hearing.
Raina is a recent media graduate from Government Degree College, Baramulla. He believes his life has turned upside down for a crime that he never committed.
“I think one profession that is under deep fear of attacks today in Kashmir is journalism. There are times when I had done critical stories. I wrote them and nothing has been said. You expect some backlash but nothing happened, a week, a month, and it goes, but I have never observed or faced such uncertainties in journalists that I am observing now,” says Rana.
Hilal Mir, a Srinagar-based independent journalist thinks the situation is getting “violent”. journalists have been fleeing from Kashmir after intimidation.
”Such tactics and threats have a long history in Kashmir but under the current government, the situation has gotten far more violent. Reporting has become more challenging over the last few years in Kashmir,” adds Mir.
“Sometimes terror charges are labelled for mere social media post opinions which are not at all acceptable, for young journalist FIR’s prove to be fatal, we have the example of Aasif Sultan,” he explains.
Aasif Sultan is a Srinagar based journalist languishing in custody for three years.
“Presently, the government has been showing no tolerance opinion for something which is the job of a journalist. As these challenges persist, individual journalist, face increasing hardships” he added.
Raina believes, “the teeniest act of rebellion or upsetting someone powerful can constitute a real threat for a journalist in Kashmir”.
“My parents are continuously forcing me to leave this profession because too much worried about my safety rather than my work. Journalism has been taken hostage in Kashmir. We leave home not knowing whether we will see our families again,” says Raina.
Speaking to Maktoob, Zahid Malik, SSP of Bandipora claimed that “when any social media content attracts investigation, we are bound to file FIR to proceed the investigation.”
“FIR is not a final punishment for anyone, nothing else can be said about the case right now. I don’t have much information regarding the case of Sajad Gul because I was transferred here recently,” Mailk added.