This Article is From Sep 25, 2014

Reporting a Humanitarian Crisis in Kashmir

Srinagar: (Anchal Vohra is a Chief Correspondent with NDTV 24x7)

Cameramen were punched. Reporters abused and threatened. A journalist beaten up so ruthlessly he was left with two fractured ribs.

Covering disasters is not easy. Journalists sign up for it because there are stories worth telling. Knowing there would be appreciation for some reports and uncensored criticism after others.

All in a good day's work so no hard feelings. But what happened in Kashmir while covering the floods has been disturbing and heart-breaking.

Our team was perhaps the first to go on a rescue mission with the army. Paradise was under water. The only way to move around was with the forces in army trucks and boats.  

One evening, around 9:30 pm, our boat rescued one officer and ten civilians - all local Kashmiris.

But as the soldiers stretched out their hand to the locals, young men showered abuses on the men in uniform. Even a young Kashmiri man who dared to hop onto the boat, wasn't spared.

Half in disbelief, half in fear, we hastily switched off our cameras. A mob isn't amenable to reason.

Thousands were waiting for help -- surviving somehow on rooftops, lashed by incessant rains. They were angry, perhaps allowed to vent and scream at the helping hands. Or were they?
On our way back, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, the army truck transporting us and the rescued men and women to safety, got stuck in neck-deep water.

We stopped filming and used the camera lights to signal for help instead. Just for evidence, we rolled 10 seconds of video.

"Stop shooting, you Indians," screamed the rescued Kashmiris.

Appalled and hurt, I snapped back. Wasn't my team stuck with them too?

It was a natural reaction and I thought justified, but at the same time felt guilty. These people were going through hell, they have the right to scream. I should be quiet. But why did they have to keep bringing India in? And insult the soldiers risking their own lives to save theirs?

The reaction of the people towards us could have been for a variety of reasons. Help reached late and many of their near and dear ones were still stuck. The trust deficit towards the Indian state and all its symbols led them to believe the cameras were rolling only to praise the forces - men a section of Kashmiris have been fighting against. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said it wasn't those in need of the relief who were pelting stones at the choppers and the army, but  "those who traditionally fish in troubled waters". The separatist sentiment was certainly being provoked.

Their anger was understandable, their hatred wasn't.

The constant attacks made it difficult for many of us to venture out as often and as freely as necessary to record that massive humanitarian crises.

Did that help them? Reportage during natural disasters is crucial in bringing people's focus to disaster zones. Everything depends on that -- rescue, relief and donations... the much needed blankets, drinking water, medicines and food.

If a section of Kashmiris felt the media has failed them in covering the floods, they must understand they failed the media too. At a time like this, humanity must get precedence over the politics of conflict.

Restricting the press wouldn't help.

The unsung heroes of the tragedy? The volunteers, students and shikarahwallahs, who not only helped the journalists but also ferried the tourists and locals alike to safety.

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