New Delhi: Danish Siddiqui, a name most Indian newsrooms would consider their mainstay when it came to editorial photo selection, was killed on the night of July 15, while covering clashes between the Taliban and Afghan Special Forces.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, who headed the India multimedia team at Reuters, has been responsible for taking some of the most defining photographs of human struggle and conflict in the last decade.
In addition to his searing photographs of the Rohingya crisis, Siddiqui took images that brought to light the extent of Muslim suffering in the February 2020 communal violence in Delhi and the sheer weight of deaths in the second wave of COVID-19 in India.
For a consumer of news, Siddiqui’s images accompanied events that were often so enormous in scale that were it not for the photographs, the extent of their hugeness would be lost. However – as many journalists, editors, sub-editors and designers have noted on social media in the aftermath of his death – for those who produce news, Siddiqui’s photographs were loyal company as India and its neighbours leaped from one newsworthy event to another. Through his work, he has palpable presence in nearly every newsroom.
Here is a selection of some of his work through the years.
The above is one of the photographs released from Siddiqui’s last assignment, in the course of which he was killed. The journalist was embedded with the Afghanistan Special Forces.
Siddiqui’s work often singularly focused on those most affected by headline-making events – people at the grassroots. He specialised in capturing images that wrung the everyday truth out of manmade conflict.
But his photographs also found time to meditate on the rawness of personal suffering – suspending them in time – as his photographs from the second wave of COVID-19 and the deaths and despondence they brought, as well as the migrant workers’ efforts to reach home during a hastily called lockdown last year, are proof.
As farmers’ approached Delhi’s borders for a protest against the agriculture laws that is yet to dissolve, Siddiqui covered not just the borders themselves but also the regional support gatherings that took place.
The photograph below, from the communal violence in northeast Delhi, showing a group of men viciously beating up an isolated Muslim man was chosen as one of the defining photographs of 2020 by Reuters.
Siddiqui’s photograph paved the way for individual reporters, including those from The Wire, to follow up on how the man faired. Read more on him here.
Before the riots, Siddiqui extensively photographed the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. On one such day, a then minor opened fire at Jamia Millia Islamia students in New Delhi. Photographs by Siddiqui captured the taut danger of the situation and also the fact that police remained largely immobile while the shooter was brandishing a firearm, eventually injuring a young man.
A day after Siddiqui’s death, a Gurugram court rejected the bail application of the Jamia shooter, who was arrested by the Haryana police recently after he gave a provocative speech at a mahapanchayat in Pataudi.
Along with single photographs that told entire stories of extraordinary problems, Siddiqui also worked for reports that reflected pressing yet longstanding issues.
In the image below, for instance, is a crowded and expensive Mumbai apartment that stands as a symbol of urban renting woes.
Another example of his work on all that is left to be remedied in big cities is an in-depth report on Mumbai’s rat catchers who are expected to kill at least 30 rodents each night and hand over the carcasses to civic officials in the morning. If they fall short by even one body, they are expected to make it up the next night, otherwise they stand to lose a day’s pay.
Siddiqui’s work was not limited to the urban poor. Siddiqui’s 2012 portrait of a representative from a group which is almost the least photographed among India’s working class – a girl child labourer – sets the tone for that.
In the 2013 image below, the realities of minors forcibly being married off are highlighted. Krishna, 14, sits with her four-month-old baby Alok outside her house in a village near Baran, located in Rajasthan. Krishna was married to her husband Gopal when she was 11 and he was 13. Krishna had a very difficult delivery, losing lots of blood and remained in the hospital for several days, says the report.
Photographs by Siddiqui, of the Rohingya crisis, not only won accolades but also acted as a window for the world to recognise the depth of the genocide and the endless struggle of a people locked in a refugee camp with nowhere to go.
The following image of Kashmir is one among many taken by Siddiqui and his colleagues in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370 in the erstwhile state, plunging the new Union Territory into a nearly one-and-half-year-long internet shutdown.
Observing how aspects of everyday culture have been turned into zones of contestation in a time of increasing polarisation and majoritarianism, played a big role in Siddiqui’s work. An example of this are the two images below.
As a mark of how all-pervading Siddiqui’s work was when it came to daily news production, the photograph below (and several others taken by him of India’s public institutions, banks and government buildings) has accompanied news reports across a range of topics having to do with the Reserve Bank of India, offering easy opportunity for illustration for many a news item.
Another example of an image that has been used multiple times – but a considerably more brutal one – is below.
Finally, in the 2010 image below, Siddiqui’s photographs young men watching the film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir.
In his profile page on Reuters’ website, Siddiqui said, “I photographed people watching a romantic Bollywood film while I was doing a feature on a Mumbai theatre, which has been showing the same film for the last 15 years. The way a film can help people forget their worldly worries, everyday hassles, and cares makes this picture special for me.”