Kashmiri Photojournalist’s Arrest Raises Questions on NIA Probe
It is a great irony that the one arrest among the many made in Kashmir by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) that has caused the most resentment is the arrest of the youngest and least connected of all those the NIA has arrested since July this year.
Young Kamran Yousuf Bhat is just 21 years old and lived until his arrest in a hamlet in the outback of south Kashmir with his unemployed mother. Unlike the various ‘political’ stalwarts of the secessionist movement who have been arrested, Kamran apparently has hardly any wealth.
Not only has the NIA earned resentment for going after such a poor young man from the outback, it may have seriously erred in terms of the outcome. So far, reports indicate that Kamran’s lawyer has effectively shown the special court hearing NIA cases that the young man had very little income of any sort, illegal or legal.
Kamran is a keen photographer, whose pictures were often published by news outlets. His work was in demand, for he was quick off the blocks whenever there was an encounter or a militant attack or funeral. Living in the heart of south Kashmir gave him ready access amid the agitations, attacks and encounters that have gathered pace in south Kashmir over the past couple of years.
It was apparently his effectiveness as a news photographer that earned the wrath of the state, for his photographs and videos from demonstrations and funerals stirred anti-India sentiments in the minds of many young Kashmiris. The last straw apparently was a photograph of the Indian flag being burnt.
Where’s the Evidence of Wrongdoing?
The key point ought to be whether Kamran was photographing the harsh reality of a very unhappy situation, or was being paid to spread false propaganda, or at least had a deliberately inflammatory motive for his work. One would expect the NIA to prove one or both of the latter.
However, according to reports, Kamran’s lawyer has effectively shown that the young man was not receiving funding for his work as a photojournalist. In fact, the young man often used to want to borrow a couple of hundred rupees, says Pulwama-based journalist Irshad ul Qadri, who mentored him. The newspapers that published his work did not pay him much.
Not only that, they washed their hands off him as soon as he was arrested. It is the untiring determination of Qadri, several Srinagar-based photographers, and some freelance Kashmiri journalists that has kept the focus on Kamran.
He could easily have been forgotten by now, given the structural inequalities that operate against the poor and unconnected. ‘Plate sin with gold, and the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks. Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it,’ as Shakespeare wrote.
There is another aspect of the sad story of Kamran’s arrest. As with many of the young men and boys that the police arrests or locks up for ‘stone-pelting,’ such action tends to harden such youth rather than dissuade them from undertaking such activities. They are generally kept with hardened criminals, often including highly motivated radical figures.
Kamran’s family has been associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami, and he has now become a cause celebre among azadi activists. He is a reticent young man, competent behind a lens but uncomfortable in the limelight. Yet, there can be little doubt that he will be seen (and projected) as a symbol of injustice if and when he is released.
According to talk in the security corridors of power, Kamran’s arrest was not a particular priority for the NIA. They apparently had a list of 150 youth, mainly ‘stone-pelters,’ but the state administration tried to prevent the arrest of the youth. When the investigators insisted on at least a couple of youth, the police apparently fixed on Kamran – angry as they were over the flag-burning picture that had just been published.
If this is true, it would demonstrate the risks of executing such investigations without adequate groundwork and a sharp focus. The situation, particularly in south Kashmir, has been far too disturbed since soon after the floods of 2014 for the state to be able to afford actions that lack methodical procedure.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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