By Sushil Kutty
Kamran Yusuf is a Kashmiri photo-journalist. The other day, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) while branding him a ‘stone-pelter’, claimed that he is not a ‘real journalist’ because he never covered developmental projects as genuine journalists do! The “hard-working” freelance photo-journalist has been in detention since September last year.
Yusuf, like many photo-journalists routinely do, must have got a stone-pelter to enact the act for him to take a photo and got “caught”. Like the t-shirt says, sh#t happens! The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called for Yusuf’s release but so far, nothing! Apparently, he was “fingered” by another stone-pelter.
A resident of Pulwama in South Kashmir, Yusuf was not charged with anything when picked up in September 2017 and brought to Delhi. On January 18, he was charged with “stone-pelting” and “waging war against the Government of India” by “carrying out terrorist and secessionist activities”. Thursday last, the NIA presented documentary proof. Truly, this Kashmiri journalist lives a charmed life if it was not so miserable, maybe even unjust.
I’ve worked with three Kashmiri journalists, one a young intern; another a 28-year-old who won the Ramnath Goenka Award for Investigative Journalism a couple of years ago; the third, older and by far the most “experienced” of the three, also more hardened. He reported on politics. I met all three around the same time in 2014. Looking back all of them sound very unreal!
Meeting the intern was a revelation. For the first time, I was face-to-face with a pro-Pakistani Kashmiri. The 28-year-old was in the same pro-Pakistan club. But he would shed the wool only when provoked. You had to get into an argument with him to bring out the anti-India vehemence. But once he got going, there was no holding him back. He would bare his pro-Pakistani soul with an earnestness that was unbelievable. He was argumentative and bold. Incredibly brave.
“I was returning from school one afternoon, when I was caught up in Army firing. Somebody pulled me behind a wall. When I reached home, my mother found a bullet in my schoolbag. My books saved me that day. Since then I’ve always hated the Indian Army,” he told us once. I think it was a child’s fantasy which acquired a horrible reality of its own over a period of time. I and a Jat colleague would often rib him to rile and provoke him. He didn’t mind. I think it gave him a chance to be true to himself in a setting he did not relish to be in. He would much rather be far away from India. One time, truly riled, he said his “ambition” was to get a scholarship to an American University and once there “apply for asylum!”
The young intern is a reporter in Srinagar these days. She uses words like “brave”, “hero” and “not afraid of bullets” to stone-pelters besides “resistance”, “oppression” and “rising” in her stories. She is the romantic, often giving the impression of the tragic figure looking to be rescued by Galahad. I don’t grudge her, her choice of words. They are grounded in her life-experiences. Her sympathies lie with the stone-pelters, many of whom must be her neighbours. She is on Facebook and sometimes a post of hers would pop up. And I would be reminded of the first time I spoke to her.
I had to cover an event and saw this intern in my office at the venue. She waggled a couple of fingers to beckon me to join her. I thought what the heck and took a seat next to her. Just then Jana Gana Mana was played and everybody stood up for the National Anthem except the intern! Afterwards, she told me, matter of fact, “It is not my National Anthem. I’m not Indian. I’m Kashmiri first and Pakistani second.”
After the event, we could not find transport to return to office. It was one of those days! Not even an auto-rickshaw was going our way. So we walked two kilometres to a metro station. After that day, I avoided her. She was there, and around, but she was not ‘Apna Desh’.
The blunt young intern and the award-winning honest-to-god investigative reporter were genuine articles. I’m no longer in touch with them but I hear about them. As to the senior Kashmiri journalist, I was told he is related to a top separatist leader. He talked and wrote like there couldn’t be a more “Indian” journalist than him. In fact, his writings never betrayed his true feelings – pro-Pakistan, pro-separatist. I used to marvel at his balanced and fair reporting.
Till one day! Listening to some youtube clippings of Pakistani news programmes, a very familiar voice struck my ears. It was the ‘senior journalist’, a ‘guest from India’ on a Pakistani talk show – my marvel of a fair and balanced journalist was mouthing garbage about the Indian State, the Indian Army and ‘India-held Kashmir’. I was stunned. Dumbstruck. Completely and totally betrayed.
I occasionally chance upon him at the Press Club of India. I believe he also writes a column for a Pakistani Urdu publication. We don’t talk anymore. I think the vibes or the lack of them got to both of us. Janus-faced! I heard he was prisoner of the Indian state for several months for no fault of his. But I wish he was true to himself as the young intern and the asylum-seeking 28-year-old were.
Getting back to Yusuf, the NIA said this in its charge-sheet, “Had he (Yusuf) been a real journalist/stringer by profession, he may have performed one of the moral duties of a journalist… blood donation camps, free medical camps, a Ramzan iftar party and taking the local student for India Tour – free of cost.” It seems like the NIA has vacancies for real investigators. Qualification: Brains. (IPA Service)