Three photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir were elated when they came to know that they have been honoured with the coveted Pulitzer prize, announced on Tuesday.
Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Annad working with Associated Press were awarded this prestigious prize for capturing the last year's post- August 5 scenanrio in Jammu and Kashmir when the ruling dispensation did away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir unceremoniously and split it into two federally controlled territories.
"My office sent me a YouTube link and asked me to watch the announcement", Channi Anand told National Herald.
He said that he was watching the announcement with his family when suddenly his name was announced for the award.
"I had a great feeling. I cried with tears of joy", said Anand.
The prizes were announced by Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy on YouTub amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A few days before the August 5 move, the government had moved legions of forces in the region and imposed an unprecedented clampdown.
All the communication lines were cut off and the Valley remained out of bounds for several months.
The journalists in the Valley had struggled hard to report and send across the stories to their respective media outlets outside Jammu and Kashmir.
Khan and Yasin had to really work hard at clicking the pictures amidst a total lockdown. They had to move past the barricades and glistening concertina wires erected by the security forces to seal the streets and alleyways in Kashmir.
After the day's work, the journalists would go to Srinagar airport and send their photo files via Delhi bound passengers who delivered them at their office. The things, however, for Anand were a bit easier as the slow speed broadband data services were working in Jammu.
"In Jammu, a slow speed broadband was working. It, however, used to take too long to upload the files", said Anand.
Anand's picture that won him the prestigious award was of a trooper keeping vigil during the cross-border firing.
Anand recalls the day when he clicked his award wining picture, in Akhnoor sector of Jammu.
"Last year on August 13, the tension along the border had flared up and armies from both India and Pakistan were exchanging volleys, and it was then when I took the picture", recounted Anand.
He added that it was always a dicey affair to work in such situations.
Post August 5 journalism in the Valley
Since the last year's August 5 move, the journalism in Kashmir has been going through a terrible phase. The journalists are consistently being harassed and bullied into submission by the state.
During the last year's protracted lockdown, many journalists were thrashed allegedly by security forces in the line of duty. Some reporters who had the courage enough to report the truth were summoned to police stations. In April, three Srinagar based journalists were booked for their writings and social media posts.
"In a place like Kashmir, it is crime to speak truth to the power ", said a Valley based journalists who did not wish to be named.
He said that the journalism in Kashmir went under a drastic change after the Union government changed the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. .
Most of the leading newspapers in Kashmir have been forced to exercise self censorship. A prominent Srinagar based English newspaper did not cover the story of journalists who have had cases registered against them under the stringent laws while another widely read broadsheet chose to carry a police press note.
The analysis and opinions pieces are still largely missing from the Valley based newspapers.
Politicizing the Awards
The journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have deplored the way the awards were politicised by the right wing leaders.
BJP leader Sambit Patra in a tweet had asked why these journalists accepted the award as the sovereignty of the nation was more important than any award.
Senior journalist and editor in chief of Kashmir Images, Bashir Manzir says that it is a huge achievement for the journalistic tribe of the Valley.
"The journalists in Kashmir have borne the brunt of this long-drawn-out conflict. More than 15 journalists were killed over past 30 years and if the work of any Jammu and Kashmir based journalist is recognised at an international level, I don’t think people should object to it" Manzar added.
Manzar said that BJP was playing politics on it.
"It is uncanny to say that there is a threat to sovereignty of nation by accepting these awards as these journalists must have applied for the award as the citizens of India", Manzer pointed out.