India Insight

from Photographers' Blog:

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we want freedom". When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

Government buildings burn after being set on fire by protesters in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The following morning the police imposed a curfew throughout the valley. I prepared to go out with my media pass which exempts me from the curfew, but the curfew was so strict I was not allowed to move outside my home. After a series of frantic calls to officials, I finally got permission to leave my home at 5 p.m. I reached the office and decided to stay there for the night. I was not able to shoot any pictures.

Photographer Danish Ismail prepares tea in the Reuters office.

From that day on, the office become home for Mushtaq and me. The next day, I woke up early, washed my face, prepared tea for Mushtaq and myself, and quickly washed up the kitchen utensils. I left the office to hunt for pictures: sometimes alone, sometimes with a group of journalists, by bike, by car and often just on foot. The curfew was so tight that in some areas the security forces did not honour our passes. I suppose they had their jobs to do, but we had our jobs to do too.

Killing of civilians fuels Kashmir anger

Supporters of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shout slogans while being detained by police during a protest in Srinagar June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliJust days ago, scenic Kashmir, torn by two decades of war, was near normal.

Thousands of tourists were flocking to the region and honeymooners were once again gliding in shikaras, small Kashmiri boats, across the mirror-calm Dal Lake.

The disputed Himalayan region has seen a significant drop in violence between Muslim rebels and security forces.

But now the Valley is again under siege in the backdrop of rising public anger.

Do Kashmir separatists seek to revive dialogue with new Indian government?

After India’s ruling Congress party won a decisive victory, Kashmir’s main separatist alliance urged New Delhi to resolve the decades-old dispute over the Himalayan region.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, said India has a strong government after a long gap and it is time for a solution to the Kashmir issue.

Are Kashmir separatists seeking to revive a stalled dialogue?

Talks between New Delhi and moderate separatists broke down in 2007 after three years, and the failure, which separatists say further alienated the people of the region from India, was partly attributed to the country’s “weak” government.

from Photographers' Blog:

The most difficult thing to shoot in Kashmir…

During nearly two decades of violent Kashmir conflict, I have covered fierce gun battles, between Indian soldiers and Muslim militants, suicide bombings, rebel attacks, massacres, protests, mayhem, violent elections and disasters.

But the question that always comes to mind is "what is the hardest to shoot?'

I always remember protests or riots, clashes between stone throwing protesters and gun-toting Indian troops. Stress levels quickly rise as me and my text colleague, Sheikh Mushtaq, realize that our assignment will not be easy whenever we go out, mostly on Fridays, the day when Muslims offer congregational weekly prayers, which turn into weekly protests against Indian rule in Kashmir.

There is literally no place to hide and shooting is nearly impossible when angry protesters take to the streets and rocks rain down; Indian troops retaliate with tear gas shells, rubber bullets and many times with live ammunition. Most of the time we, with protective gear and camera equipment strapped to our shoulders in backpacks, are stuck in the narrow streets of downtown Srinagar as impatient crowds and ruthless troops battle for hours.

Is India failing to win hearts and minds in Kashmir?

Is India pushing the ordinary Kashmiri people further away by enforcing regular curfews, putting most of their separatist leaders under house arrest and denying them religious freedom by banning Friday prayers in Kashmir’s Jamia Masjid (grand mosque) on a regular basis to avoid violence?

I travelled to Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir this week, and saw how people were tired of violence and wanted peace and dignity in the region.

Many told me how they felt unhappy each time an incident of violence in a remote corner of the city would scare authorities into shutting down the city and forced them to stay indoors, many without any provisions.

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