Opinions

Remembering Gul Hammad Farooqui

By Benazir Samad

Gul Hammad Farooqui’s sudden death was a profound shock to me.

I had known him for over a decade. He was a stringer for ARY News in Chitral when I was the chief editor of ARY’s digital platforms.

He contacted me after discovering that I was from Chitral. Politely introducing himself, he inquired if I spoke Khowar (Chitral’s native language), and upon learning that I did, he switched to the language and began discussing his work. He shared the struggles he faced in getting his stories aired on TV and asked for my assistance. He would send me his reports, and when I believed that certain stories deserved national airtime, I shared them with the news desk. This often led to them being broadcasted, which brought him immense joy.

Gul Hammad was a determined hustler; he was associated with multiple news channels and websites. His reports appeared in English, Urdu, and Pashto outlets. Although he was a Pashtun, his affinity for Chitral was incredible. His proficiency in Chitral’s local Khowar language was commendable; he spoke it fluently and naturally, like a native speaker.

He fearlessly reported on a wide range of sensitive matters, including corruption, timber mafias, drug problems, and other social issues from the region.

Gul Hammad faced numerous challenges and backlashes, including physical assaults and multiple FIRs filed against him for his reporting. Yet, these obstacles did not deter his passion for journalism. He remained Chitral’s most prominent journalist, building a reputation despite being an outsider in Chitral. Farooqui was originally from KP’s Charsada district.

His sudden death from a heart attack at a relatively young age leaves me pondering the pressures small-town journalists endure, which often go unspoken. They persevere because journalism is their calling. Most of these journalists are freelancers who are only paid for the work they complete, without job security. With no retirement plans or medical insurance, their livelihood depends on consistently producing stories throughout the year.

I have continued to receive his stories via email since 2013. Just a day before his death, I received an email from his three different accounts about an awareness walk in Drosh Valley in Chitral for a school admission drive.

Farooqui was a true definition of a community journalist. He journeyed to remote villages to document the stories of vulnerable communities. His videos highlighted women’s issues, the struggles of the Kalash minority community, shortcomings in healthcare, and the local people’s sufferings after calamities and natural disasters such as landslides, heavy snow, floods, and torrential rains.

Farooqui’s death is a loss for his local community. His work brought attention to the challenges faced by residents of Chitral. With Farooqui gone, these stories may no longer receive the attention they deserve.

Benazir Samad is an international journalist at Voice of America in Washington, D.C. She Tweets @benazirmirsamad

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