Killed in the Valley

BY ninan| IN Media Practice | 21/04/2004
Asiya Jeelani, a young journalist working with a human rights monitoring group in Srinagar, was killed on April 20 when a landmine blew up her taxi.

              Reprinted from the Indian Express, April 21, 2004


 Toufiq Rashid


NEW DELHI, APRIL 20: Another day, another blast, another life lost in the Valley. I was born and raised there, began seeing death when I was in Class VII. I can put hundreds of faces to those killed. But this afternoon was the first time since I moved out almost three years ago that a casualty in Kashmir isn’t a statistic—it’s a beautiful young face with a sparkling smile.  

Asiya Jeelani, a young journalist (read woman) working with a human rights monitoring group in Srinagar, my senior in school and then my junior in the journalism department at Kashmir University, was killed today when a landmine blew her taxi.  

I remember the day Asiya joined college, the initial hello of familiarity and the ragging that followed. I remember the girltalk we had—about her graceful way of dressing up. And the days of undeclared cold war that followed when either of us lost an argument.  

 Not only did we share all this, we also shared the idea of pursuing journalism as a ‘‘career’’ in the real sense of the term—as a life. We wanted to tell stories of people—to people. Not a welcome idea for women in a place like Kashmir 

A topper in her batch—she ranked second overall in the university that year—she, instead, of settling in academics like most of our batchmates (read women), opted to be in the field. She freelanced for local papers and TV channels while working full time for an NGO, the Association for Parents of Disappeared Children (APDP).  

To be ‘‘in the field’’ has a different meaning when it comes to Kashmir. It’s not what it means in Delhi where I, as a reporter, am paid to be be in the field. For me, that means air-conditioned rooms in Nirman Bhavan or meeting top doctors in their tastefully decorated cabins in the city’s best hospitals. Of course, I, too, have an occassional tryst with the diseased and dying.  

But things were different for her. For her, reporting meant going into areas were even eagles don’t dare. In remote corners of the Valley, where a bomb can turn up around the corner. Where a stray bullet may get you. Where you never know who will be angry by your search for the story.  

And that’s what happened this morning. An IED which surely didn’t have her name got her. The blast ripped the taxi apart and not only did it take away a beautiful mind, its echo will reverberate for quite a while.  

For, Asiya’s death is a great loss for women in Kashmir—and to the few women journalists in the Valley. Women, like Asiya, aren’t happy being put in boxes as doctors, engineers or teachers. They want to break away from the 9-to-5 routine. Because that’s the accepted norm in Kashmir: people aren’t against working women as long as they have a ‘‘dignified’’ 9-to-5 routine.  

Asiya couldn’t care less. She didn’t need to work for most of the reasons that others need to work. But surely, she was driven by the need to work, to answer her calling. Not only her fate, her will, too, made her go to a place where even the most staunch journalists dare to go.  

She even came to New Delhi, working with a newspaper for a few months. This was just a year after I had joined The Indian Express. I later heard she had suddenly left to go back. ‘‘She didn’t like the city and the city, I suppose, didn’t like her,’’ one of her friends told me.  

Last heard, she had written a piece on the ‘‘insensitivity’’ of the capital. Had the place treated her well and had she been lucky enough to find friends and colleagues as I did, maybe she, too, would have been covering the Lok Sabha elections in the dusty streets of Old Delhi. Maybe she would have been doing her best to get an interview with Smriti Iranni. Or maybe she, like me, would have been waiting for the new Health Minister. 

Maybe she would have been alive.








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