21st April 2020
Indian Women Cinematographers Collective is shocked to learn that Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old photojournalist from Srinagar has been charged under the draconian UAPA for “uploading anti-national posts (on Facebook) with criminal intentions to induce the youth and promote offense against public tranquility”. This stringent law allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists” and the person can be jailed for up to seven years.
Zahra has fearlessly documented stories of people and women in Kashmir for the last four years. Her work focuses on documenting the conflict in Kashmir from a woman’s perspective and tells the stories of these women’s suffering and their resilience. While working in challenging conditions like frequent internet shutdowns and never-ending spells of lockdowns, photojournalists like Zahra put their safety at risk to document the life in the conflict-ridden Kashmir, one of the most militarized places in the world.
It is important to note that she is one of the first few female photojournalists from Kashmir who is trying to carve out a space for herself. In 2018, she had faced resistance for her work when a picture of her capturing an operation by armed security personnel in Kachdoora, Shopian district went viral on social media and she was labeled as a ‘mukhbir’ (army informer).
We, a collective of women cinematographers understand the resistance and hostility she is facing now, and has faced in the past from all quarters, be it the online trolls or the society. We salute her courage and her professionalism for continuing to do her work fearlessly despite such grim circumstances. Zahra and many other committed, fearless journalists belong in the field, reporting, doing their job of bringing truth in these times of adversities.
It is said that Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Media is the conscience- keeper of society, the watchdog that keeps an eye on the state and its subjects and hence the press must not be silenced and harassed by invoking such harsh and draconian laws. A democracy without a free press is not a democracy. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure freedom of speech and expression as written in the Constitution of India instead of muzzling the voices of journalists and press.
It is very unfortunate that when the world is in a grip of pandemic and when we need to stand together to combat the COVID-19, the government is hounding journalists and harassing them to silence their voices. We as visual artists, as cinematographers and as filmmakers, strongly condemn this brazen attack on a journalist and a fellow visual artist’s fundamental right to her freedom of expression, and stand in complete solidarity with Masrat Zahra. We demand that the charges leveled against her under the stringent and draconian UAPA be immediately revoked.
IWCC Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective