Photo Essay | Society

Behind the smoke: Images of an encounter in Kashmir


When Witness Kashmir 1986-2016, a book of photographs shot in Kashmir by nine local photographers and edited by documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak, was published in 2017, one of the mild criticisms it faced was the absence of women photographers in the compilation. Subsequently, lens-women from Kashmir have been very much in the news for some fearless documentary photography.

In April, the well-known photojournalist, 26-year-old Masrat Zahra, was arrested under the draconian UAPA, leading to an international furore. Now, with three Kashmiri photographers who work for Associated Press in Jammu and Kashmir bagging the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography last month, it is clear that ‘conflict photography’ has touched new heights in a region that has been under a severe ‘total lockdown’ for over nine months now.

Sanna Irshad Mattoo (Instagram: sanna.irshad.mattoo) belongs to this new and intrepid band of photojournalists who are working under challenging circumstances in Kashmir, where they are viewed suspiciously by both the agencies of the state as well as the local population.

Here are some images captured by her from the May 19 incident at Nawakadal in Srinagar, in which the government claimed the death of two Hizbul militants and injuries to four security personnel. Over a dozen houses in the area were reduced to ashes and rubble in the ensuing fires, while scores of residents were rendered homeless in the middle of the pandemic.

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