Photographers' Blog

Healing Kashmir’s wounds

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

When I saw four young Kashmiri boys at a music contest perform English and Urdu tunes in Srinagar, I could not believe my ears and eyes that it was really happening in Kashmir.

Kashmir’s centuries-old music was silenced by the sounds of bomb explosions and booming guns after a bloody revolt against Indian rule broke out in this disputed region over two decades ago. Music schools, liquor shops, beauty parlors and cinemas were closed in the Valley in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups.

The sounds of drums and guitars and the singer’s voice caught my attention, driving me to want to meet them after the performance. I met them back stage and found myself wanting to know more about them. So, I planned to do a story on the youths. I received a call telling me they were planning a jam session in their house. Excitedly, I went to met them immediately. I was received warmly and taken into an old building in an uptown locality of Srinagar. There was little light in the room with just two lamps that weren’t working properly. As I tried to help fix the lights, the music began to get louder and I started taking pictures.

“Sign – the signature of music” is a four-member rock band of Kashmir’s new generation, aged between 17 and 18 years, who grew up amid the conflict and now want to spread the “message of love and peace”.

The violence, involving security forces and militants, killed tens of thousands of people and left nothing untouched across Kashmir, a scenic region and once the heart of Sufi Islam in the subcontinent.

Highway Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

As I started my journey from Srinagar to cover the aftermath of a heavy snowfall along the 300km (186 mile) Srinagar-Jammu highway, the early morning chill was bone biting. Though I had a heater in my hired taxi, it still could not cope with the outside cold but as we drove along, the heat started to pick up.

A recent heavy snowfall across the Kashmir region had snapped electricity transmission lines, telephone lines and internet services plunging the region into darkness and cutting it off from the rest of the world; compounding the misery of around seven million people who live in the valley. The mountainous Srinagar-Jammu highway, which connects Kashmir with the rest of India, remained shut for a fifth day on Tuesday after heavy snowfall.

As we approached Qazigund, the main town in south Kashmir, I could see long lines of stranded trucks on the left side of the road. Some drivers were busy trying to keep the engines and fuel tanks of their trucks warm with bonfires. Some tried to remove snow from around their trucks and others prepared late breakfasts inside empty trucks. Many told me about the problems they faced while being stranded and wanted me to highlight them in the media.

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.

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.