Three Kashmir photographers win Pulitzer Prize

Three Kashmiri photojournalists from the news agency Associated Press – Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand – have been awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in feature photography.

The announcement by Dana Canedy, the administrator of the prizes, came late Monday, deferred by two weeks, via livestream on YouTube from her living room – rather than at a ceremony at Columbia University in New York – due to the coronavirus outbreak. The photographers were conferred the most prestigious award in journalism for capturing “striking images of life” in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the Centre’s decision last August to read down Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to the former state.

Yasin and Khan are both based in Srinagar, while Anand lives in the neighbouring Jammu district. “I was very excited to hear the news about my colleagues and I getting selected for the prize,” Khan, who has been working full-time with AP since 2004, told Mirror. “We are very thankful for the support from our family and friends. We have worked very hard for it.”

The unprecedented lockdown, which saw curfew for more than 200 days, as well as a shutdown of phone and internet services – the longest in any democracy so far – had the photographers covering the territory under great constraints and threats to their wellbeing.

According to Yasin, going out in the field was always ‘cat-and-mouse’. “These things made us more determined than ever to never be silenced,” said the photographer whose own image went viral in 2017, when he was seen saving a girl who had been hit by a stone in the head during a student protest. “It’s not the story of the people I am shooting, only, but it’s my story. It’s a great honour to be in the list of Pulitzer winners and to share my story with the world.” The news agency said in a statement: “Snaking around roadblocks, sometimes taking cover in strangers’ homes and hiding cameras in vegetable bags, the three photographers captured images of protests, police and paramilitary action and daily life — and then headed to an airport to persuade travellers to carry the photo files out with them and get them to the AP’s office in New Delhi.”

Some of the works of the photographers, which the Pulitzer Prize has featured on its website, includes a paramilitary soldier standing guard as Kashmiris offer Friday prayers on a street outside a local mosque during curfew in August last year; of men shouting ‘azadi’ slogans during a protest; and six year-old Muneefa Nazir, a Kashmiri girl whose right eye was hit by a marble ball shot allegedly by paramilitary soldiers on August last year, among others.

The news of the Kashmiri journalists winning the top journalism prize also coincides with journalists Peerzada Ashiq, Gowhar Geelani and Masrat Zahra in the Valley being accused by the police of “anti-national” activities, which has led to major outrage. Iltija Mufti, daughter of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, tweeting from her mother’s Twitter account, said: “Congratulations @ daryasin @muukhtark_khan for your exemplary photography capturing the humanitarian crisis in Kashmir post illegal abrogation of Article 370. Bizarre that our journalists win accolades abroad but are punished under draconian laws on home turf.”

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said in a tweet: “It’s been a difficult year for journalists in Kashmir & that’s saying something considering the last 30 years haven’t exactly been easy. Congratulations to @daryasin, @ muukhtark_khan & @channiap on this prestigious award. More power to your cameras.”

This year, the Pulitzer also recognised Reuters photographers in the Breaking News Photography category “for capturing the magnitude of the pro-democracy, anti-government protests that unfolded over many months in Hong Kong last year”, among which was Anushree Fadnavis from Mumbai, along with Tyrone Siu, Adnan Abidi, Ammar Awad, Willy Kurniawan, Leah Millis, Athit Perawongmetha, Thomas Peter, Kai Pfaffenbach, Jorge Silva and Susana Vera.

Photojournalists from India in recent times have been gaining international acclaim. In 2018, Adnan Abidi and Danish Siddiqui were the first Indians to win a Pulitzer for feature photography. They were part of a five-member team and won the award for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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