In a place like conservative Kashmir, many are reluctant to speak to male journalists, which means more female journalists are becoming prominent in the valley of unease, gaining access to rape victims, female activists and other female leaders.
Women reporters are reporting not only conflict, but the experiences of ordinary women living through extraordinary times in the continuous two decades of turmoil in Kashmir, painting a picture of how a militarised society can be affected by war.
A few years ago, challenging male reporters in the field of journalism would have been unthinkable, but a debate remains as to how much progress has actually been made.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom polled a group of women working in Kashmir’s scene, to find out.
Braving all odds
She has several years of experience and has covered issues in northern Kashmir villages such as the growing number of widows in India, unsustainable population growth and corruption.
She’s also reported on how relationships have suffered amid the political conflict, such as the film she made about a Pakistani girl who wasn’t able to call her family after marrying a Kashmiri boy because they were living on the other side of the border.
“We managed a video conference between the two families and filmed it...It was the first time that lady faced the camera but she was so comfortable, as if I was a part of her family. The kind of happiness that I saw on their faces was worth watching,” she said in an interview with the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. “I am not sure to what extent I had been able to benefit them, but that day I realised how a divide creates distances and suffering.”
She is pleased with what she has achieved battling through in a male dominated profession, and amid a traumatising and often dangerous conflict.
Taking the lead amid conflict
The nature of a zone like Kashmir, which is heavily militarised, has eroded media freedom. In the last three summers, most journalists were confined to their homes and had to observe a curfew. Some were not allowed to move out of their offices, if they ever managed to reach them in the first place. Curfew passes were not entertained, even to top veteran journalists, let alone female journalists.
For Bismah Malik, becoming a reporter was natural. She grew up in a family of journalists. She’s a correspondent, with a journalism degree from Delhi, for the English-language daily Kashmir Times and has worked before with CNBC TV 18. While she recognises the important work of others like herself, she thinks there is a need for more women to take up a profession in media.
“I always wanted to work for my people, especially women who face many challenges in conflict zones, especially due to their gender. There is a dire need for more women journalists to tell stories about their families, about women, which are downplayed,” says the young journalist.
Women should devise new ways to minimise their risk too, she added. “We shouldn’t be afraid of speaking out.”
‘We’re weren’t taken seriously’
For a long time women reporters’ male counterparts didn’t take them seriously, despite them working on the front line. But that trend is changing.
“In my experience, I have found issues related to women are not given enough space, which is still a big challenge for media plurality. But now, this negative trend is changing with more and more women joining the field and changing the mindset,” she says.
Rashid is also the author Waiting for justice: widows and half-widows.
“Working as a female journalist is considered to be a male job in Kashmir. But I choose to be a journalist above anything else. As a female journalist it was not easy. Some made fun of us, ignored us and we are not generally invited to press conferences.”
One of the main benefits more female reporters can bring, is providing a deeper picture more personal picture of how the conflict affects society. They have a greater level of access to women who have been victimised in the ongoing conflict.
But for Monisa Qadri, a journalist professor at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Srinagar, there are still too few female journalists around to tell these stories.
“I see that the inclination towards this field is positive but that does not seem to transform into practicality...the sustainable number of women active in the field is not so pleasing,” she says. “Nevertheless, I do see few of my girls making...We should encourage all the aspiring minds to create a niche for themselves and create some space in this otherwise male dominated area.”