With a credible body of work published in The Caravan, The Washington Post, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian, Religion Unplugged and other reputed organisations in India and abroad, Kashmir’s freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra has been named the winner of Anja Niedringhaus Courage In Photojournalism Award 2020 by International Women’s Media Foundation. Documenting everyday life of Kashmir that is smeared with regular crackdowns of the army, the Srinagar journalist was booked under the stringest Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) by Jammu and Kashmir police in April this year.Also Read - Drone Shot Down in J&K's Kanachak, Explosive Material Recovered
Since 1990, IWMF has been fighting for press freedom and supporting courageous female journalists. The award by IWMF honours the memory of German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus, who was also Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer but was killed in 2014 in Afghanistan. Awarded annually by the IWMF, the prize is of $20,000 (€17,500) that sums up to Rs 15,17,910 in India. Also Read - Remembering Danish Siddiqui: India Pays Homage to Pulitzer Winning Photojournalist | IN PHOTOS
IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Munoz said, “Countless communities around the world are facing enormous threat, harm and censorship due to governmental threats and the declining state of press freedom worldwide. During these times, Anja’s legacy reminds us that it’s the communities beneath the headlines who are the true targets of civil and social brutality.” Also Read - Jammu and Kashmir: 11 Govt Employees, Including 2 Cops, Sacked Over Links With Terror Outfits
This year’s jury said in a statement, “Our winner and honorees this year exhibited stunning emotion, dynamic composition and most significantly, put themselves in direct contact with those experiencing immediate suffering, at immense personal risk. These portfolios are not easy to create, and these women crafted haunting and lasting narratives of their own communities, bringing the world into their stories.”
Taking to her Twitter handle, Zahra expressed her feelings on receiving the award. She tweeted, “I am incredibly honored to share that I have won the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award from @IWMF I’m happy that my work has finally been recognized. After thanking Almighty,I would like to say a big thank to my mentor, @ShowkatNanda for his guidance, love & care. When I applied for the award earlier this year, he was there at every single step–from helpng me prepare my application to editing and sequencing my work.He has truly revolutionised photojournalism education in Kashmir and inspired hundreds like me.Thank you,Baba.I owe this to U. I also thank my family, my friends, colleagues and everyone who supported me when I was going through difficult times. I dedicate this award to the unshakable courage of my fellow journalists of Kashmir, especially women reporters and photographers (sic).”
A statement on IWMF website detailed about Masrat Zahra, stating, “Zahra would often observe clashes between Indian security forces and Kashmiri protesters. Defying the wishes of her family, Zahra became a photojournalist in order to join Kashmiri journalists working tirelessly to cover the Indian occupation of the region, and its toll on local communities. Today, as one of a small group of women photojournalists in the region, Zahra now faces consistent resistance based on her profession and her gender.”
In April this year, people were appalled as to how an anti-terror law meant for hardened terrorists, could be applied to a mere picture by the feisty young journalist on social media. A storm unleashed on social media as netizens called the UAPA charges against Zahra ‘outrageous’.