I woke up early morning on 14 October in Srinagar with Uri on my mind. We had spent the first few days meeting people in Srinagar and a day had been consumed in exploring some of the volatile areas in the south of Kashmir. Today was the day to travel to Uri and see how the villages along the Line of Control (LoC) were doing.
I picked up Sameer Yasir, my journalist friend in Srinagar, from his house at 8 AM and we embarked on the 110-kilometer journey.
We had settled in the car, listening to old Hindi songs, taking in the chilly breeze, when, around 30 kilometres into the drive at Delina, a big stone suddenly burst through the car window next to where I was sitting. I survived. The window did not.
The stone thumped on my chest, the crushed glass covered my lap, some of it penetrated my left hand and the cuts started bleeding.
We stopped a few meters ahead. A furious Sameer jumped out of the car and ran after the boy who had hurled the stone. I stepped out of the car, meticulously picking the glass pieces off the wounds.
The driver began cleaning up the backseat, when some of the locals gathered out of curiosity.
I am not sure if the stone pelter had seen the "press" sticker on the vehicle, but what happened next was rather startling. The group gathered around the car and looked at me as if I deserved it. I was a bit shaken in the first place, for it was my first time at the receiving end of a stone (not that I have ever been at the other end).
As I stood there, wondering what would have happened if the stone had hit my head or the pieces of glass had cut my eyes, the group seemed to get voyeuristic pleasure out of my visible discomfort. "Indian media humare khilaf propaganda karta hai," a middle-aged man said with a smirk.
I was a bit surprised because the attitude was disturbingly at odds with the "Kashmiriyat" I experienced a year ago when I spent almost a week in the Valley. Adding to what the middle-aged man had said, a youngster, probably in his late 20s, proudly bragged, "Humne yaha pichhle kuch dino mein teen media ki gaadiya choor choor kar di hai."
"Fir kya hua? Mil gayi aazadi?" I snapped back, realising I should not have the moment the words left my mouth.
The young man, understandably, took offence. He charged towards me while simultaneously abusing the Indian media for labelling them as anti-nationals and worse.
I immediately took out my press card and told him I work for the Los Angeles Times and that do not endorse what the section of the Indian media does. I repeated, "A section of the media". He stopped and seemed a bit pacified.
At that time, Sameer came back and said the stone pelter had run away. He looked at the shattered glass, then at my hand and muttered a few uncomplimentary words towards the boy who had hurled the stone.
The young man who had charged at me heard that and a heated exchange ensued between him and Sameer.
A couple of elders in the group separated the two of them. I could not figure out what they said, for they argued in Kashmiri, but I heard a man say "Los Angeles" to the young man a few times.
Stop the press!
As we sat back in the window-less car and resumed the journey, what Shujaat Bukhari had told us a couple of days before, struck me. "People over here see the narrative of nationalism emanating through some of the TV studios as the representation of the sentiment within the country," the Rising Kashmir editor opined.
"The media has definitely played a role in intensifying the alienation of Kashmiris."
Journalists in Srinagar say reporting has become precarious even for those who are based here. Moazum Mohammad, a journalist with Kashmir Reader, said his press card was torn by an angry mob a few weeks ago. "My editor rescued me," he recollected.
When we visited some of the volatile areas of South Kashmir, Sameer had taken the "press" sticker off, only to put it on when we were back in Srinagar.
I had visited the Valley in May 2015. It was quite peaceful. The anger, though, was palpable. Anger against the Indian state and the security forces. But this time around, the media appeared to be an addition in the hate list.
Protests are dealt with pellets. Demonstrations are countered with the Public Safety Act. There is absolutely no sign of the state addressing the disaffection.
To live in an atmosphere with no sense of justice, and for the section of the media to justify that when Kashmiris look at it as an avenue to express their point of view, is simply adding insult to injury and hastening their estrangement.
In a situation like that, one cannot expect them to see the nuance and differentiate between a Arnab Goswami and a Barkha Dutt.
When the anger is bottled up to the extent it has, even the sight of a vehicle with a "press" sticker is enough to bring out the worst.
PS: If at all I had been working for the news organisations brimming with nationalism, it would have at least been a consolation for the Rs 4,000 I had to pay for the broken windshield.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen