Masrat Zahra is one of the few emerging female photojournalists from Hawal, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, who presents the stories in the form of visuals, from women’s perspective, which are mainly about the Human Rights violations in Kashmir and the matters of conflicts between Indian security forces and Kashmiri protesters and the conditions of people suffering because of it, especially women and children. She focuses majorly on covering the stories of her hometown, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.
Masrat Zahra was born on 08 December 1994 (age 28 years; as of 2022) in her hometown, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Masrat Zahra was a science student in school as her mother wanted her to become a doctor. Later, she decided to pursue her further studies in journalism for which, in 2017, she went to the AKS School of Visual Journalism and Documentary Photography, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Masrat Zahra completed her Masters’ in Arts (2016-18) in Convergent Journalism, Audiovisual Communications Technologies/Technicians from the Central University of Kashmir. According to an interview in 2020, Masrat Zahra initially faced challenges in convincing her parents to accept her profession as a journalist as they knew how hard it would be for her to be a journalist along with standing against the social, cultural and psychological barriers out there. There was no female journalist in Kashmir then, which made it more difficult for her to convince her parents. In an interview, held in 2020, Masrat Zahra revealed the kind of hurdles she faced from the side of her family, which couldn’t shake her dedication to being a photojournalist. She said,
It was hard for me to convince my parents as there were only a few women journalists and visual storytellers in Kashmir. They did not understand the role of a woman in this field. Therefore, for them, it was a very rebellious decision. Sometimes, my parents would even hide my camera. But I would still go out, sometimes asking my friends for their cameras, sometimes clicking with a phone. But I never stopped clicking. They are extremely scared for me of course. I was hit by a pellet fired by the armed forces once, that time the fear increased manifold. Then there is societal pressure as well. People talk and blame my parents for a ‘bad’ upbringing. I go through a lot of moral policing. Whenever I come home late after a day of shoot, the neighbours raise their eyebrows and talk amongst themselves.”
On 31st March 2021, Masrat Zahra moved to Hamburg, Germany, as she was invited by the Hamburg Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.
Height (approx.): 5′ 3″
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
Masrat Zahra belongs to a traditionalist Muslim family.
Parents & Siblings
Her family involves her father, Mohammad Amin Dar , a retired truck driver, mother, Fatima , a homemaker , brother, Muddasir Dar, and a sister, Fatima Alia.
Masrat Zahra is a follower of Islamism.
Masrat Zahra has worked as a freelancer photojournalist, to get into the depth of Kashmir. In an interview, she said,
I think all my pictures reflect day-to-day life in my homeland. In a conflict zone like ours, every picture in its own way, even in this beautiful Himalayan landscape, describes the tragedy of Kashmir.”
Masrat Zahra has worked with many well-known national and international news agencies such as Al Jazeera, The Caravan, The Sun and The Washington Post. According to an interview, held in 2020, she got her very first news assignment in August 2017, in which she was supposed to cover a story of the labour, Firdous Ahmad Khan, who was shot by the Government forces in the southern Kashmiri district of Pulwama. According to an interview, Masrat was nervous about that coverage as she had many thoughts coming to her mind, she said,
I was worried that his family would not speak to me, or that security forces would stop me. I was afraid of failing to tell the story.”
Masrat Zahra also talked about the experience she had when she met the family of that civilian in an interview, she said,
But when I met Firdous’ widow Ruksana, then 25 and soon to give birth to their second child, she hugged me and cried and told me about the pain of losing her husband. She was burdened and desperate to speak, and could open up to another woman. While her story made me extremely sad, I felt a responsibility to tell it. I watched Ruksana’s two-year-old daughter embracing her father on a metal bed, kissing and touching his face for the last time before he was separated from them forever and another empty bedframe returned to the hospital.”
The Funeral of Zakir Rashid Bhat (aka Zakir Musa)
One of the challenging reportage of Masrat Zahra was the funeral of Zakir Rashid Bhat (aka Zakir Musa), a student who was converted into a militant and later became the founder and chief of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, an association that had vowed to al-Qaeda. On May 24, 2019, Zakir Musa, who joined Terrorism in 2013 , got shot to death. The inhumation of Zakir Musa was held in Noorpora village in Trial Block, in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. According to Masrat Zahra, the roads were full of security checkpoints and the entry of journalists was restricted. She somehow managed to get in and took a picture of an empty bed on which the body of Zakir Musa was laid down. In 2020, in an interview, Masrat Zahra shared her viewpoint about that empty bed she captured. She said,
For me, the empty bed had a different story to tell, far more haunting than the story it told with a dead body on it. It was the void the frequent killings of fighters and ordinary women and men leave behind in their families. This picture makes me think of how these beds carry the bodies of young men, women, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers before they are gone forever. I think about families coming to kiss them for the last time on those beds. These beds share a connection of death and grief. Although there are largely men in this picture, I imagine the women – a mother, sister, wife or daughter, looking at the bed a loved one once slept in, and the loneliness and emptiness this brings. I think of their pain.”
After eulogizing Zakir Musa as a fighter, Masrat Zahra quoted,
The bodies of Kashmiris killed by the Indian armed forces are not taken to the graveyard in a closed coffin.”
The Story of Abdul Qadir Sheikh
Masrat Zahra shared the story of a man named Abdul Qadir Sheikh, who was killed by gunfire by the Indian Army in 2000. Masrat Zahra shared the story of meeting Abdul Qadir Sheikh’s wife, Afra Jan, on social media through a post. She wrote,
Arifa Jan suffers frequent panic attacks nearly 2 decades after her husband was gunned down in a fake encounter by Indian army in 2000,she can still hear the gunshots and sees her husband’s blood-soaked body when she thinks of him,“There were 18 bullet holes and I still remember how deep they were.”
Masrat Zahra also shared the picture of things belonging to Abdul Qadir Sheikh, that Afra Jan still keeps with herself and wrote,
Arifa Jan keeps newspaper clippings and the blood-stained notes of her husband, Abdul Qadir Sheikh, was carrying when he was gunned down by Indian army suspected being a militant.“I couldn’t come to terms with the agony and pain inflicted on me,” she said”.
Reportedly, this story came out to be called an “anti-national post” by the J&K Police officials.
Awards and Achievements
- Masrat Zahra has been selected as the 2022-2023 Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow, an award given to journalists for their accomplishments, at the University of Michigan, United States.
- Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award in June 2020.
- In 2020, Masrat Zahra won the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism for “telling stories of the women of Kashmir.”
- She also goes by the name Pyari.
- On March 04, 2020, Masrat Zahar’s work was displayed for the exhibition and panel discussion on “Self-determination and Human Rights in Kashmir”, at Juridicum in Erlangen Nuremberg, Germany.
- Masrat Zahra was framed under the Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act, which refers to the offences against any class or community causing fear to the public, for uploading “anti-national posts”, in the Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone. The police dropped the summon when The Kashmir Press Club and Directorate of Information had a word with them. Later, the police registered a case against Masrat Zahra to initiate an investigation regarding the offence of provoking the public and disturbing the law and order. The statement was,
Accordingly, a case FIR No. 10/2020 U/S 13 UA (P) Act and 505-IPC dated 18-04-2020 stands registered in Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone, Srinagar and investigation set into motion.”
Masrat Zahra was the second Kashmiri journalist to be booked under UAPA Act. The posts were not specified by the police for which she was booked under UAPA Law (in which an individual can be denominated as a terrorist and sentenced to jail for up to seven years), but a post she tweeted from one of her articles, published in 2019 in The New Humanitarian, was quoted by them in which Masrat wrote about Afra Jan’s husband whose life was put to an end by Indian Army in 2000. According to Masrat Zahra, Afra Jan’s husband was shot with 18 bullets by the Indian Army. A statement was given by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday, 20 April 2020. The statement was,
Cyber Police Station received information through reliable sources that one Facebook user namely “Masrat Zahra” is uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquillity,”
Arifa Jan suffers frequent panic attacks nearly 2 decades after her husband was gunned down by Indian army in 2000,she can still hear the gunshots and sees her husband’s blood-soaked body when she thinks of him,“There were 18 bullet holes and I still remember how deep they were.” pic.twitter.com/QOw2wHzllU
— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) April 17, 2020
- According to an interview in 2020, the main reason Masrat was booked by Cyber Cell after being summoned under UAPA Act, was the post shared by her on social media, consisting of a poster with the text referring to Burhan Wani, a commander of a terrorist group, Hizbul Mujahideen, as “Shaheed” (martyr). In this interview, Masrat said,
Two small apostrophes around the word Shaheed could have kept me away from harm’s way. I am not sure though.”
- According to an interview held in June 2020, Masrat Zahra faced the male dominant situation when she was tried to be excluded from reporting certain protests. She said,
There have been times when I was pushed over by male journalists while shooting protests. Once I was called a Mukhbir (state informer) on social media, the male-dominated press associations did not support me at that time. I stopped my work for a month, but I came back to it again.”
- In 2021, in an interview, Masrat Zahra revealed the reason and motivation behind choosing journalism as her career. According to her, it was the time when she was younger, she used to visit shrines and other places with her mother and grandmother where she noticed that only male journalists are capturing females praying and grieving which made those women feel uncomfortable. She said,
I thought to myself, “No, there should be someone from Kashmir, who will talk about what is happening in Kashmir.” There are many unheard stories (from Kashmir)—I wanted to tell them. Among these were the stories of women who were not comfortable with the male gaze. For this reason, I wanted to be a photojournalist.”
- On July 26, 2021, Masrat Zahra’s father, Mohammad Amin Dar, was pulled aside by six policemen for not wearing a mask, while he was looking for an auto-rickshaw on the main road of Batamaloo with his wife, Fatima. Reportedly, Fatima revealed that the policemen started beating his husband and when she tried to stop them, they hold her by her hair and arms. According to the media , many allegations were made against Masrat’s parents such as calling it a ‘planned’ incident to be in the news. Moreover, Masrat Zahra was called ‘anti-state’ by Aijaz Ahmad, who was the head of the Batamaloo police station at that period. Masrat shared the picture of her father’s wounds on social media.
Posting the picture of my father who was thrashed by police. One can clearly see his bruised arm. I didn’t want to post these pictures but yesterday’s police statement is ridiculous and they cannot thrash people in the day and at the end of day when questioned deny the thrashing. pic.twitter.com/TM6wzEXUdO
— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) July 27, 2021