Watch: The Badass Women Photojournalists of Kashmir

Watch: The Badass Women Photojournalists of Kashmir

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Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Cameraperson: Syed Shahriyar

On 18 May, Masrat Zahra uploaded her photo on her Facebook account. She was covering an operation by armed security personnel in Kachdoora of Shopian district, when her friend took her photograph. A few hours later that photo went viral, and was followed by threats, abuses and intimidation.

Her photo was shared widely portraying her as a mukbir: An informer and spy.

People in Kashmir haven’t seen a woman at encounter sites, among armed men or security forces. It was new to them. They thought I was an informer. So they labelled me a mukbir. That disturbed me a lot. It left me depressed. 
Masrat Zahra, Freelance photojournalist 

The valley has seen years of conflict, and that became a reason for many people to pick up their pens or cameras to report what is happening. Men in bulletproof jackets, a press helmet and a camera is a common sight, now even women are daring to make space for themselves.

I think there should be a female perspective of the conflict. 
Masrat Zahra, Freelance photojournalist 
Ruksana mourns the death of her husband Firdous Ahmad khan, a civilian, who was killed in an encounter operation to nab LeT commander Abu Dujana, Srinagar. 
Ruksana mourns the death of her husband Firdous Ahmad khan, a civilian, who was killed in an encounter operation to nab LeT commander Abu Dujana, Srinagar. 
(Photo Courtesy: Masrat Zahra) 
From students’ protest of 5 April 2018 in Srinagar. 
From students’ protest of 5 April 2018 in Srinagar. 
(Photo Courtesy: Masrat Zahra) 
A girl in uniform looks at the pellet gun during a curfew in Old Srinagar on 28 July 2017.
A girl in uniform looks at the pellet gun during a curfew in Old Srinagar on 28 July 2017.
(Photo Courtesy: Masrat Zahra) 
The photo was taken during restrictions imposed near Jamia Masjid on 18 September 2017.
The photo was taken during restrictions imposed near Jamia Masjid on 18 September 2017.
(Photo Courtesy: Masrat Zahra) 

Also Read: Picture Imperfect: Kashmir Through the Lens of Nine Photographers

Suspects on Both Sides

Just like Masrat, Sanna Irshad Mattoo is a photojournalist and has been covering encounters, clashes and funerals for more than two years now.

Recalling an incident she said, “There was a curfew and I was shooting in downtown Srinagar. A police officer called and asked me what I was doing. They asked me for my ID card and told me to stop shooting. This was my experience with the police here. Such checks and interrogation have become routine”.

Sharjeel Ahmad Sheikh, a 30-year-old driver, was going to get married in a few days but lost his life in an encounter in Kulgam district. His fiance looks at his corpse as she mourns in death.
Sharjeel Ahmad Sheikh, a 30-year-old driver, was going to get married in a few days but lost his life in an encounter in Kulgam district. His fiance looks at his corpse as she mourns in death.
(Photo Courtesy: Sanna Mattoo)
Women mourn during the funeral of Fayaz Ahmed, a local militant, from Khanqah Srinagar on 5 May 2018.  
Women mourn during the funeral of Fayaz Ahmed, a local militant, from Khanqah Srinagar on 5 May 2018.  
(Photo Courtesy: Sanna Mattoo)
After the Chattabal encounter that killed three militants and a civilian, a woman looks at her house that also became a casualty on 5 May 2018.  
After the Chattabal encounter that killed three militants and a civilian, a woman looks at her house that also became a casualty on 5 May 2018.  
(Photo Courtesy: Sanna Mattoo)
Protestor in a confrontation with the J&K police.  
Protestor in a confrontation with the J&K police.  
(Photo Courtesy: Sanna Mattoo)

Also Read: Major Leetul Gogoi, Driver, Woman Picked Up From Srinagar Hotel

Conflict reporting isn’t easy. Last year, on 5 September, the National Investigation Agency arrested Kamran Yousuf. A 23-year-old freelance photojournalist in south Kashmir. They accused him of instigating people to pelt stones.

For women, the challenges are of a different kind. They find resistance from all sides.

Sanna Mattoo is a 24-year-old professional freelance photojournalist based in Srinagar. 
Sanna Mattoo is a 24-year-old professional freelance photojournalist based in Srinagar. 
(Photo Courtesy: Syed Shahriyar) 
Masrat Zahra is a 24-year-old freelance photojournalist and is a student of journalism at Central University of Kashmir.  
Masrat Zahra is a 24-year-old freelance photojournalist and is a student of journalism at Central University of Kashmir.  
(Photo Courtesy: Syed Shahriyar) 

Sanna believes gender makes no difference, work alone does. And Masrat says she doesn’t see herself as a man or woman when she is on the field.

While Masrat has the support of her father and her brother, her mother still wants her to change her profession. She feels it’s too dangerous. However, despite these challenges, the two continue to follow their passion.

Sanna and Masrat have been working in difficult circumstances. They have covered clashes, protests, encounters and funerals. A sight of a woman with a camera is a rare one, and people are still getting used to it.

(This story was first published on 24 May 2018. It is being republished to mark the occasion of World Photography Day on 19 August 2018.)

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