Three Pulitzer-Winning J&K Photographers Speak About the Challenges They Faced

Srinagar: For photojournalists Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand, all from work for Associated Press, winning the Pulitzer for feature photography was a dream they did not know they had.

Around 9 pm on May 4, they got a call from their office asking them to join an urgent meeting on Zoom. After that, they were told to watch the Pulitzer Prize announcements.

They did as they were asked – little knowing that they were in the list of 2020 award recipients.

“I was with my family when I switched on the awards. I had no idea what was going to happen,” said Anand, who has covered political developments in Kashmir since 2000.

The Pulitzer Prize – the most reputed award in journalism – was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than four million people across the world.

From capturing a picture of a masked Kashmiri protester jumping on the bonnet of an armoured police vehicle as he throws stones at it during a protest in Srinagar, to a wrenching picture of a girl who was hit by pellets in her eyes, Yasin was recognised for most of his pictures.

The 47 year old was at home when he got the news, and celebrated with his family. “It is a huge honour and privilege to get the award,” he said. He is happy that he managed to get the stories out at the time when Kashmir was under a complete clampdown.

Like other journalists, the three winners used to send stories on pen drives to the AP office in Delhi.

The Pulitzer website has uploaded 20 winning photographs by these three photojournalists. Most of them are from after August 5, when Article 370 was read down and Jammu and Kashmir’s special status revoked.

Watch: ‘We Were Determined Not to Be Silenced’, Say Pulitzer-Winning Kashmir Photographers

Yasin was born in 1973 in Srinagar’s old city, and has extensively covered the Kashmir conflict, the opening of the bus route along the Line of Control in 2005, and earthquakes across South Asia. He has also covered the Afghan war, refugees and daily life in the war-torn country. His work has appeared in a number of major newspapers and magazines across the globe.

Khan, too, celebrated the award with his family. “My wife and two kids were with me when I heard we have won the prize. My children don’t know exactly how huge the prize is, but they were very happy,” he said.

In Jammu, congratulatory messages are still pouring in at Anand’s house. The 49 year old received the award for a picture in which a soldier is keeping vigil near the India-Pakistan border at Garkhal in Akhnoor.

Sharing his experience with The Wire, Anand said he took that picture after August 5, when there was escalating tension at the India-Pakistan border. “I asked permission from the PRO of the BSF who told me, ‘You can go at your own risk.’ It took courage to take that picture but I never knew it will win me this huge prize,” he said.

According to Associated Press, they filed a group entry for the award. The agency thanked the team in Kashmir for bringing what happened after August 5 to the public eye. “To capture the photos, the journalists regularly fled both security forces and angry crowds — sometimes hiding in the homes of strangers — as they looked for ways to illustrate daily life,” said AP president and CEO Gary Pruit, in a statement.

“We are enormously proud of the work by Dar, Mukhtar and Channi. Their skill, bravery and ingenuity in the face of many obstacles gave the world vital and insightful glimpses into the extraordinary situation in Kashmir,” said AP senior vice-president and executive editor Sally Buzbee. “Their commitment to telling this story is profound.”

For Anand, who has worked with the AP for almost 20 years, said the win brought tears to his eyes and his families’. “My son and daughter were so proud of me as they began to explain to me the importance of the prize,” said Anand, who had thought it was a normal prize.

Rajini, his wife, has been his support system in good and bad times, even when he would earn just a few thousand rupees a month. “I started in this profession at the age of 19. It was also when I got married, things were tough but my wife was always by my side.”

He started working as a stringer with AP in 1999, at a time when only a few photojournalists would work from Jammu. For the last five years, he has been a staffer at the agency.

“Being in a conflict zone, we see how the situation turns at times here. There is almost no peace at the borders, so it is also not that easy for photojournalists to capture what’s happening,” he said. Working as a photojournalist in such a scenario often leads to dilemmas, he added.

Also read: Use of UAPA Against Journalists is Last Nail in Coffin for Press Freedom in Kashmir

For Anand, Yasin is like a big brother. “Khan is younger than us, but he is also hard-working. Yasin is a down-to-earth-person,” he said about his colleagues. “I share a beautiful bond with Yasin both professionally and personally.”

According to Anand, one should have a dream and vision in life. “If you give your 100%, you can achieve something at least, even if small, but never give only 50% your passion,” was his advice for juniors and young journalism students.

In 2017, when student protests rocked Kashmir, a picture of Yasin holding an injured girl were viral on the internet. “He took her to a hospital, leaving his camera behind. Sometimes we think we should get a great picture, but he didn’t cared,” said Anand, laughing. “That’s how he is.”

Quratulain Rehbar is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist.