Stalkers, texts and suggestive ‘courts’: Life of a female journalist in Kashmir

Many women journalists, who work with sources in order to get content, many times, trying to help them out too, end up being stalked and harassed by the same person.

Working late hours in the office on one of the stories, after noticing the lights being turned off in the newsroom, I get up and leave for home. It is so dark that there is no way to point out the difference between people on the streets.

On boarding a cab, and as soon as I get into one, the fellow passengers start enquiring, helping, and troubling at the same time. Realizing that the eyes surrounding me are dilating every time I receive a call, I couldn’t hold myself back from yelling at my mother, who is the source behind the unstoppable calling.

She is worried about my safety; my brother tells me, who she wouldn’t let rest until she hears the squeaking of the Iron Gate.

This behavior of my mother has become more intense after 2016, when a fellow woman journalist was harassed by the same people who were supposed to ensure her safe travel back home.

My mom gets very sarcastic (and real) at times, “yiman re’atch karan walian nis racthin khodai (god save us from the people who claim to save us),” she says.

I had been working on an important story and was expecting a few calls from a source of mine. Returning home exhausted, I forgot all about it, until the time my phone rang. I picked up my phone, only to see that it was the same number that I had been ignoring for a month now.

Disappointed, and irritated, I abort the call and turn my phone off on a stalker who once was a source.

Instances like these where the source turns into a stalker, go unnoticed and unregistered. The rest are discussed and dumped in the newsrooms.

Living in fear that people will not believe her, or put the blame on her, a working female journalist on the basis of anonymity shares her story.

“Meeting that official for the first time, and getting to know by his own mouth that ‘people take him for a womanizer’ was quite a shock,” the journalist says.

Being her editor’s friend, and a well known official, she thought this source was sacred, but little did she know that he had already made plans in his head to remarry.

“Sparing myself from going through that trauma again through memories, I will come on the point and tell you how, after a brief span of time, he started to complain about his marriage and asked me if I could marry him,” she continues saying.

The journalist had gone to collect some important documents that she never got. Starting from light text messages and then nonstop calling, the stalking had turned into harassment.

Praising and complimenting her looks under the garb of her work, that government official started giving her feedback on her every-day trivial stories. The journalist claims that it got ugly with every passing day, until she had to block his number rather than switch off her phone and miss on the important phone calls she needed for her stories.

“I finally decided to choose my dignity over breaking stories. You see you can’t even talk about it because then you will be held responsible for what happened to you,” the journalist says.

The blame is almost always put on the victim, like the rape apologists, ‘if you had better and not revealing clothes on, then you wouldn’t have been raped’.

It’s the story of every one of the female journalists. Marouf Gazi, a working female journalist shared with me her ordeal of being stalked.

“I was working on a story regarding floods and that official didn’t talk to me over the phone. So, I had to go and meet him,” Marouf tells me.

When Marouf went to meet the official, he made her sit in front of him and asked her to give him a call from her personal number so that he could save it. Marouf excused herself citing lack of credit in her phone. The official offered to recharge her phone with some amount of money.

“Then the texting followed, with calling, of course. He kept going on and on about it every chance he got that he would provide me both ‘personal’ and professional help,” she says in an angry tone.

Shazia Yousuf, another freelance journalist explains how harassment has become a word with such a small definition. According to her the word has a much more elaborated meaning, from how your boss treats you at the office, to how much you’re being paid in comparison to a male colleague.

“What we have done here is that we have restricted it to a certain allegations. We are missing on the bigger picture. Who doesn’t get harassed in media field?,” she puts up a question.

Working in the field for over ten years now, she has taught herself to cope with such situations like dozens of other female journalists.

“Talk to a young boy for a story, and viola, the friend request is waiting for your confirmation on Facebook,” Shazia adds.

Mrignakshi, a female journalist working in Kashmir for quite some time now, talks about the other experiences as a woman working in Kashmir’s media field.

Being a non-local, she says she has been treated very well here. She believes that part of the reason for this is that because she works for an internationally reputed media organization.

“Except the women asking me for my personal details which most of the time is very uncomfortable, there is nothing like stalking and harassment that I have faced here,” she says.

Mrigakshi says how she always let her stringer take the lead, which can be the probable reason for her to be spared from the wrath of male officials and locals.

Till a few months ago, working in Kashmir as a security correspondent for Rising Kashmir, Sumaiya Yousuf, now a correspondent at The Times of India, shares her views on how working female journalists are treated in the field by their sources.

“As such I have not experienced anything that I would say was harassing except for one incident with the police which still makes me tremble when I think about it. I think to some level it depends on the woman how people take her, or respond to her. It depends on her and moreover you should know how to handle things if anything happens.”

The harassment includes behavior ranging from verbal, sexual harassment to more severe behaviors such as intimidation and sexual and physical violence.

A 2013 study from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IMFW) found that nearly two-thirds of women journalists have experienced some form of harassment or abuse in relations to their work.

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