Monday, Sep 26, 2022

‘We Also Become Stories,’ Says Kashmiri Female Photojournalist, Booked Under Anti-Terror Law, On Winning International Award

Masrat Zahra was named the winner of the 2020 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. The jury praised the 26-year-old’s work for its sense of 'dread and community.'

Kashmir-based photojournalist, Masrat Zahra Photo: Umer Asif

Kashmir-based photojournalist, Masrat Zahra, who was last month booked under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her social media posts, has won a top photojournalism award for her "moving images" of the conflict in Kashmir.

On Thursday, Zahra was named the winner of the 2020 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award. The jury praised the 26-year-old’s work for its sense of "dread and community."

“I am happy that the world recognises my plight and the plight of other journalists working in tough circumstances. The case against me was shocking. You cannot book journalists for the pictures they take. The pictures we take are the testimonials of people. They are the truth as it is. The awards and recognition might not change our whole situation, but yes, it makes us feel that there are journalist bodies that understand what we go through as professional journalists,” Zahra told Outlook.

“They would at least speak for us and keep our cases alive,” she added.

The Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award was created to honor the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus. With this Award, the IWMF celebrates the courageous work of women photojournalists like Anja. The $20,000 prize is awarded annually by the IWMF, supporting courageous female journalists.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police in April booked Zahra along with author and senior journalist Gowhar Geelani under the UAPA for indulging in "anti-national activities.”

The police, referring to Zahra as a Facebook user, had booked her for uploading “anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and to promote offences against public tranquility."

“In Kashmir, journalists have faced extreme harassment since last year – be it beating, intimidation, detention or denying the basic rights that include the Internet. The government tried to paralyse us in every way but we continued to produce stories despite all that -- that is what journalism is, you do not make your circumstances stop you from reporting,” Zahra added.

“As much as we try hard to keep on telling stories, we are also becoming a stories, when we are beaten and booked under laws like UAPA,” she said.

Zahra said the award serves as a recognition for women journalists in conflict zones and that it is a “collective recognition” of the work of all journalists in Kashmir who have faced tough times and continue to do so.

“In the past four years, when I started my career, I have faced multiple battles, starting right from my family and the society. But I was able to fight them alone. The biggest battle that shocked me was the case against me under the UAPA. I didn’t know what to do, I had no organisation to back me. It also scared me when I imagined that I could be in jail for seven years. But after the case, I gathered myself and told myself that I shall keep on working as long as I can,” she added.

 “And that’s what I am doing. I know it’s not going to be an easy journey as a journalist in Kashmir but as long as I am honest in telling stories, I am ready to take up these challenges,” Zahra said.