On July 25, Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra that the police had thrashed her parents in Srinagar earlier that day. “This is the everyday life of Kashmiris,” she added. “Are we in a police state ? Is this how civilians are treated?”
Zahra, who is currently in Germany, was one of three Kashmiri journalists who were booked under the anti-terrorism law UAPA last year, with the police accusing her of “frequently uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention”.
Zahra’s father, Mohammad Amin Dar, 55, said he and his wife, Feroza Fatima, were looking for an autorickshaw on the busy Batamaloo main road when police stopped them, apparently because Fatima wasn’t wearing a mask. “They asked us where the mask was. We showed it to them. But they began beating me,” Dar alleged. “There were many people there but nobody objected.”
Fatima, 47, alleged that they were far from the 5-6 policemen who called for them. “We were just walking when they told us to go over,” she recounted. “They themselves weren’t wearing masks. I had removed it because it was hot.”
Dar went over to ask the policemen why they had called for the couple, Fatima said, but “they started beating him”. “He was kicked as well,” she added.
At this point, Fatima said she tried rescuing her husband, but the cops “caught me by my hair and my arms”. “They accused me of attacking a police personnel. I said that I did it because they were beating up my husband in front of me,” she added.
As the thrashing wouldn’t stop, Fatima said, she screamed. “They threatened to kill my husband because I was crying,” she alleged. “I didn’t understand what the reason was. I was shocked. Should we not walk on the roads? Are you wearing a uniform for the protection of the public or to beat them up?”
The police only let the couple go after seizing Dar’s Aadhaar card, Fatima claimed. They went to a doctor, who prescribed painkillers and advised Dar to get an x-ray done of his head.
“We are scared. We did not eat and sat up through the night,” Fatima said. “Many people have told us to leave the Aadhaar card be. They can do anything to you. You cannot raise your voice. I am so scared I might not even walk that way again.”
Aijaz Ahmad, head of the Batamaloo police station, located within earshot of where the couple were allegedly thrashed, dismissed the allegations as an attempt by Zahra, along with her family, “to highlight herself in hopes for another award”.
“It’s all baseless,” he maintained. “They were walking past a checkpost where we were seizing motorcycles. Her mother used some abusive language, that the police are oppressive, that we have seized so many bikes because our rations have finished and we will demand money.”
Ahmad said the head of the police contingent manning the check post – there were no policewomen – objected to the allegedly “abusive behaviour” of Fatima.
“He told me there is a lady making these allegations and using abusive language, what can we say to her? I told them to seize the husband’s ID card so we could do some verification later and to not engage with her,” he added.
Had it escalated to a point where “there was manhandling on both sides, we would have filed an FIR”. “By evening we found out what the actual issue was, the family background says it all,” Ahmad said, adding that it was expected of Fatima with Zahra being “anti-state”.
“If we knew that they were provocative with this background and that’s why they were doing it, we’d have dealt with them accordingly,” he alleged. “I think it was planned by them since the daughter has not been in the news for long. What other reason could there be? These people plan how to be in the news.”
Zahra got the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award as well as the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism last year, soon after the police case against her raised concerns about press freedom in Kashmir.
Had the police thrashed the couple in a busy market, Ahmad emphasised, “people would have gathered and objected to it” and that “there are CCTV cameras if needed for a rebuttal but we didn't think it necessary”.
Ahmad said they could have responded to Zahra’s tweets, but “why would I give it a hype. I told my seniors that I will rebut it with CCTV footage but they said that will still end up giving her hype, that she has importance. They told me to ignore it.”
Responding to the police’s allegations, Zahra said, “I was privileged to raise my voice, does that mean we planned it? They always deny, this is what they have been doing. They want to normalise these beating everyday, but I will not remain silent. They have always tried to silence me. If my parents are thrashed, how can I be silent?”