A job to do on the Srinagar streets

October 5, 2010

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.

Photographer Danish Ismail is stopped by Indian security in Srinagar.

On some occasions I could only shoot deserted streets but at other times I would come across groups of protesters who had defied the curfew to pelt Indian soldiers with stones. I wanted to do my best work to bring the story to the world while at the same time protecting myself from injury as stones and tear gas were exchanged by the protesters and security forces. Sometimes I walked miles, not only on deserted roads but through muddy paddy fields. My shoes were full of water, my clothes were covered in mud, but I neither cared nor noticed: I had a story to tell through my pictures.

A Kashmiri protester runs for cover during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 14, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Day after day soldiers chased protesters who were hurling stones at them. With every clash I was aware of the need to protect myself and my equipment, but also to take pictures too. Then, I would have to decide when I should leave the scene, risking missing a key moment or picture.

Besides doing my professional work during the day I also had to run my private life, too, albeit from my new home, the office. We soon settled into a routine. In the evening I cooked food for Mushtaq and myself and prepared tea in the morning. I did not allow Mushtaq to cook or clean the office as I respect him and he is senior to me. He did offer many times, but I refused; I cleaned the office, laid bedding and did all the kitchen work. Sometimes we both were so tired that I was unable to cook the meals and we went to sleep without dinner. One day, while cooking, I burnt my hand on a hot utensil. Thankfully we had a medical kit in the office so I could bandage it.

Some days we were unable to bathe or eat, leaving early in the morning after getting information on demonstrations from colleagues or sources. Once, when returning after another long day of covering violent protests, I saw a tea stall was open. I went over, washed my face with a jug of water and drank a much-needed cup of tea. We had tea back in the office, of course, but there was little food available because the curfew had closed the markets and stores down. Sometimes we couldn’t even get hold of a crust of bread.

An Indian policeman stops a woman during a curfew in Srinagar September 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Finally, thank God, after so many hectic days I returned home and resumed my normal family life. Continually living in the office for more than ten days and nights, without having a shower, eating little food and only having a single shirt and one pair of trousers was – strangely – one of the best things to ever happen to me. I learned to value much I had taken for granted.

6 comments

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Great job Habeebii,thanks for taking us to the scene with your pictures…….CHEERS

Posted by Hina9 | Report as abusive

Really appreciable. You have done your job with full responsibility. Why there are not many comments posted here. In such a situation you have fulfilled your duties which show the sense of duty. May Almighty give you the return for the same. It is important to mention that the people of Kashmir should be seen with a human view and the crisis should be dealt with sympathetically. The security forces are there to safeguard the interest of the nation with a minimum possible harm to the lives of people. I think the forces can show much more restraint to deal with the agitated mob.

Posted by mohsir_4218 | Report as abusive

Yes forces should show more restraint. And for that we need technology. Instead of bullets that killed forces could use rubber balls in front and have bullets ready at back in case some fanatic tries to fire. Lets hope the better sense prevails.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

one thing I don’t understand with Shiekh and Danish reports is that they almost always put on a separatist face to their reporting. What was the need for Danish to say “Indian” soldiers and “Indian” security forces. why this explicit reference to Indian? Current situation is that Kashmir is a part of India, what will happen tomorrow is a different story but reality of today is this only. Is it that Shiekh and Danish let their emotions take precedence over professionalism and common sense or is it that Reuters is also hell bent on destroying its image of an independent media house free of bias and corruption.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

good job u did bhaiiiii .

salam its me altaf .

Posted by YABEELA | Report as abusive

Mr. Danish!
Congratulations you have done a very splendid job keep it up and I think that its good to use Indian security force because any body from all over world can access this blog and its not possible that everybody must be aware that where this Srinagar/Kashmir is.By writing Indian security a reader just got an idea of location there are so many states in allover world how much hardly we remember but some how writing the name of country by one way or other a reader gets an idea and nothing more so there is no issue of present Kashmir or its future what will happen tomorrow nobody knows except almighty Allah and I think is that a photo journalist always keep his emotions asidewhile performing his professional work becoz in their pictures reality is depicting so there is no chance of using emotions in their work.If their comes emotion in your life then may be you will not be out of your home are apart from your family members and stay in office for so many days and nights countinously.Again Mr. Danish Ismail and Mr.Sheikh Mushtaq you have done a good job, all the best for your future …….CHEERS

Posted by Hina9 | Report as abusive