New voices of the Valley

BY Afsana Rashid| IN Media Practice | 14/06/2009
With changing times and the burgeoning media landscape, women journalists in Kashmir are finally coming into their own.
AFSANA RASHID gives an insider’s view to the challenges women reporters in the valley have to contend with.

Kashmiri society is yet to recognize journalism as a profession for women. Societal make-up coupled with male chauvinism is partly responsible for this thinking. But the turbulent times that have been prevailing over the valley for the last two decades have largely contributed to their scarcity in the ranks of the media. There haven¿t been many women journalists since militancy was at its peak in the area even though people like Asha Kosha stood out and left their mark.


Bashir Manzar, Editor, Kashmir Images says that there was not a single woman journalist in Kashmir till 1996 though some women writers and columnists were there. Kashmir Images has had women as part of its staff since that year and is the only newspaper in the state to recruit women in the technical staff as well.


Citing the issue of security he added, "Media started growing in Kashmir after 1990¿s. Prior to that there were couple of newspapers and those were very traditional. Working of women would not have been thought of there. In 1993, the first English daily hit the stands, others followed. By 1996 a strong media started emerging in Kashmir. This was when women started looking towards media as a profession. Before militancy there was no Muslim female journalist either."


Elaborating on the reasons, he says, "Most female journalists are unwelcome in newspaper offices. For others, the family doesn¿t offer support." Referring to the graduates of the Media Department from University of Kashmir, the editor asks, "How many female media graduates  join the profession? I wonder why their families allow them to study mass communication and journalism, when they can¿t allow them to join the field of journalism later."  


As an editor he says, "I would prefer women journalists for their hard work and dedication. They look beyond traditional stories (telephonic-journalism) and go out for off-beat stories." But Manzar is also conscious of the limitations of this step. It is difficult for women journalists to be at the office for late hours because adequate facilities are unavailable to ensure their safety and convenience.


 Times are changing though and many youngsters have taken to the field. A couple of them have been working for many years now.


Razia Noor, who has been in the profession since 2005, says, "Mental make up of society is the biggest discouraging factor for women not to join the field. It is not a conventional job and that concept needs to be changed. Besides, it being a male-dominated field, the fellow malecolleagues aren¿t encouraging. They treat their female counterparts as competitors and generally feel insecure." Razia is associated with Dainik Jagran.


Initially, when Razia joined the profession, she says, people used to stare at her, which disturbed her, something which had to get used to it. She considers herself fortunate to have cooperative colleagues though there were some problems in the beginning.   While working over issues like purdah system and militancy related issues, Razia has often been threatened number of times. "I have received many telephonic threats by unknown persons for the stories," she says.


 Razia has also been associated with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar since 2001 and presently works as an announcer, script writer, production assistant as well as editor for women related programmes (Bazma niswan).


Sharing an incident that in a way instigated her to join the profession, Razia said that as a school student she met a serious journalist who discouraged her saying that the field of journalism didn¿t suit females.  "It was a bitter experience for me and I won¿t forget the incident. But in a way the comment made me work hard and when I joined the profession, I conducted an interview of the same person. He was shocked, but I was excited. " she says. 


For Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, correspondent with Kashmir Images, journalism, like life, is a challenge. As a student of literature, she was "guided by a male senior journalist to join the field, otherwise I wouldn¿t have been in journalism." Her family has been supportive, particularly her father she says.


"Kashmir, being a conservative society, people want their daughters to get married. Joining field-work is disliked by the majority," says Zeenat who has often been asked to cover page three by her male colleagues. Zeenat has had experience of working with a local English news agency (Press Bureau of India). Prior to that she worked with the English daily Etalaat and is presently associated with Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar as well.


Shahana Bashir Butt was a final semester student at Media Education Research Centre, University of Kashmir, when she got associated with Iran-based Press TV. She finds both society and families responsible for discouraging growth of female journalism in the valley. 


"I don¿t see any problems for women working in field of journalism. What it requires is strong will-power, courage and knowing that she can do it." says Shahana "Probably, women fear criticism and don¿t join."


She has been working for the last six months and relates her experience as completely different. "Now I can say I have seen Kashmir in its totality," She adds, "I came to know about many social problems, unheard of before. There are constraints as well because I have been associated with international organizations and can¿t highlight problems at the grassroots level."


She remembers and recollects, "While covering the election boycott during the fifth phase of state assembly elections in Kareemabad-Pulwama last year, as the mob turned unruly and police started firing, I along with my camera man tried to run for cover. The moment I was ordered "hands up" by the security forces, I got scared and for a while, I thought we would be shot dead."


This new generation of women has learnt to contend with the daily uncertainties of the valley and though their patience is tested time and again by society and circumstances, they remain undaunted. Their appearance on the local media landscape is sure to bring a fresh and much needed perspective on an issue that has become reduced to casualty counts and policy paraphernalia.



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