In a store-room made of tin sheets, located on the terrace of her two-room house in Tahab village, Rubeena Akhtar takes out old newspapers she keeps in a gunny sack. “Kashmir Times, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Uzma,” she murmurs as she takes the newspapers out one by one, and shows the photographs in them. “Look. In all of them, you will find pictures he has taken.”
The credit line reads ‘Kamran Yousuf/Pulwama’. Akhtar’s son, the 20-year-old photojournalist was arrested by the NIA on September 4, for allegedly colluding with stone-throwing protesters. Nearly two months later, his family asks for evidence that they have found against him.
“They have alleged he was taking money,” says Akhtar, 42, when The Indian Express meets them earlier this month. “Kamran had three bank accounts — two of them were closed long back because of no transactions. The only operational bank account has Rs 1,900 in it.”
Pulwama Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Aslam admits there is no FIR against him. “But there are certain FIRs registered against others where we are trying to establish if he had any role. That is being verified.” Pressed about a specific case against Kamran, Aslam said they were investigating a video uploaded by him of a Tricolour being burnt by protesters in Karimabad village.
NIA PRO Alok Mittal, however, says Kamran was arrested as “his name surfaced in the investigation of a terror-funding case”. “We came to know later that he is also working as a photojournalist.”
With his mother a single parent, Kamran started working early. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a freelance photojournalist for several local dailies and as a reporter and stringer for two Urdu television channels, Gulistan News and Musnif TV. “You can check it yourself,” says Kamran’s maternal grandfather Mohammad Yousuf Ganai as he spreads out several documents and identity cards on the floor.
The documents include an identity card from the Election Commission of India authorising him to cover the parliamentary bypolls for Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies, a card from Gulistan News showing him as its reporter, and an identity card from Munsif TV identifying him as its stringer.
An authorisation letter from Gulistan News to the Pulwama Deputy Commissioner, dated March 13, says, “…appointed and authorized Mr Kamran Yousuf Bhat R/O Pulwama as a reporter of Gulistan News for Pulwama. Please allow him to participate in all the events and VVIP functions… This authorization is valid till 31st March 2018.”
Ishfaq Gowhar, a senior official at Gulistan News, confirms Kamran worked for them and that they had issued him the authorisation letter. “He would send us footage of different events. But he was not on our rolls.”
His colleagues say Kamran was dedicated towards his work, and the first to reach any news site, including during encounters and protests — which has now been cited as evidence against him. “Kamran told me that NIA (officials) were asking him how he was present at every encounter site or protest. He said they asked him why ‘stone-pelters’ would call him and ask him to cover the protests. They asked why he would put in so much effort to cover the protests,” says Kamran’s uncle Irshad Ahmad Ganai, who has travelled to New Delhi to meet him in NIA custody.
The NIA hasn’t tortured him, Ahmad Ganai adds, but claims pressure is being put on him to turn “approver”.
Kamran’s grandfather intervenes. “Sometimes Armymen too called him to cover their functions. The (National Conference) NC, PDP and even BJP officials called him at times for coverage of their events,” he says. “I told him many times to stay away from such functions, but he said it was his work,” says Yousuf Ganai.
Kamran was just two years old when his parents separated, and his mother shifted into her father’s house. Kamran’s parents got divorced a couple of years later. “When we urged Rubeena to remarry, she refused,” says Yousuf Ganai, a retired political science lecturer. “She said she didn’t want to ruin her son’s life.”
Akhtar took up work as a teacher-cum-clerk at a local private school to support her son and herself. It was only recently that Yousuf Ganai helped her construct her own house; the two-room, single-storey structure lies adjacent to his. After Kamran was arrested, a devastated Akhtar couldn’t stay there alone, and moved back into her parents’ home.
Akhtar says what keeps her going is the two-minute weekly telephone call Kamran is allowed. “He talks for a couple of minutes before the line gets cut.” She hasn’t been to Delhi though to meet him. “We had no idea where the NIA office was and where Kamran was lodged,” says Ahmad Ganai. “That’s why I went.”
As Akhtar talks, her eyes keep drifting to the last photos Kamran took, published in Kashmir Uzma, a leading Urdu daily, on August 27. One shows J&K Police chief S P Vaid at a wreath-laying ceremony for policemen killed in an attacked on District Police Lines in Pulwama. Another shows a building stormed by militants.