Nusrat Sidiq | Caravan Daily Exclusive
SRINAGAR — With no association of their own, women journalists based out of the troubled, front-line state of Jammu and Kashmir have been dealing with hardships for a long time, both on and off the field.
“We don’t have a women’s association in Kashmir and around 2-3 years back, we did not even have any association for journalists in general”, journalist Rabia Bashir of Rising Kashmir told Caravan Daily, further adding that there is hardly any representation of the many issues faced by women journalists.
She is of the opinion that the reason why very few women journalists remain on the field after entering the profession is that their issues are not addressed at any level.
Last year, Masarat Zahra, a photojournalist, was badly trolled and labelled as an “informer” of the Indian Army after she went to cover an encounter in Shopian. She was also snapped with Army men while she was performing her professional duties, further alluding to this allegation.
“No one came to my rescue and even the journalistic associations said that they cannot help. It compelled me to think that I should leave this profession”, Zahra told Caravan Daily.
Issues like low wages, lack of a legal contract system, risk cover-up, biases with beats, and other things have been forcing many women journalists to switch professions.
Shreen Hamdani started off as a reporter and then went on to become an online editor with the local news portal, INS. But she resorted to a teaching job in the end, with the realisation that what was being offered to her was not enough.
“Journalists are not paid well, irrespective of whether it is a male or female in this region (Kashmir). You do all the hard work, but at the end of the day you are paid nothing in comparison to the national & international media,” she claimed.
Hamdani also pointed out that there is no growth of pay scale if you start with a low salary, and how it leads to many aspiring journalists to leave the profession midway as they are left with no other option owing to this going on for years at a stretch.
Arusha Farooq, who works as an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMS), Delhi, agrees with Hamdani, claiming that wages offered by media houses in Kashmir are abysmally low.
Farooq also says that it is not only low wages, but the dominance of males in this field is also compelling many women journalists to move out of this field.
“The system of media houses in Kashmir has not changed or I would say – evolved with time”, said assistant professor and media coordinator at the Central University of Kashmir, Dr John Koye Babu.
He rued that despite the fact that every year at least 30 female students graduate with a journalism degree from three universities in Kashmir, there are hardly 10 journalists who work in the field.
He also pointed out that as far as his interaction with the female students goes, he is of the opinion that there needs to be an overhaul in the working system of media houses in the region.
“They are non-cooperative, I think. Just a few years back media houses here were reluctant to take in women as media professionals. Now there are a few who are working locally but the numbers are not increasing”, he said, adding that the wages, working hours, redressal of problems and most importantly, the contract system being some of the core issues which need to be addressed.
Suhail Ahmed, who teaches at the Media Studies in Higher Education Department said that the conflict in Kashmir has exposed women journalists to societal as well as family pressures.
“I think ‘uncertainties’ and ‘unconventional working hours’ are two major factors which are leading many women journalists to opt out, not to mention the questions that they have to counter on top of all that,” Professor Suhail added.
But the current batch of women journalists is dismissing these concerns as patronising and demanding to be seen in the same light as male journalists, as countered by Nazima Bhat, who works as a city reporter for the Kashmir Reader.
“I don’t think working hours or conflict are major factors which force women to quit the profession. The main issue is that there is no financial growth or job guarantee here in Kashmir. At any point, your boss can tell you to leave the organisation and you cannot do anything about it,” she said.
It must be mentioned that of the top four national TV news channels – Times Now, NDTV, CNN-News18 and India Today TV — that have their bureau offices in Srinagar, not one has employed a woman journalist. Republic TV has one female journalist, Zeenat Zeehan Fazili and the other woman working for a news channel is Shahana Butt, who works for Press TV, Iran’s state-owned news channel.
The national English dailies have a similar story, having a total headcount of only two women reporters on staff. Urdu dailies, on the other hand, including Aftab, Kashmir Uzma and Sangarmal do not have any women journalists on their rolls at present.
“We need a Union of Women Journalists to sort out these matters. It becomes really difficult to talk to associations headed by men and catering only to men, about our issues,” opines Rabia Bashir of Rising Kashmir, with regard to the lack of any support systems or fall back options for women journalists in Kashmir.