The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) named Masrat Zahra as the winner of this year’s Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award on Thursday.
The freelance photojournalist’s images depicting conflict in Kashmir valley and its toll on local communities were praised by the jury for their “humanity” and her particular focus on the stories of women.
Zahra, who was born in the city of Srinagar, provides an emotional insight into daily life inside Indian-controlled Kashmir with her photographs, which the jury described as filled with a sense of “dread and community.”
The award honors the memory of German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed in 2014 in Afghanistan. The $20,000 (€17,500) prize is awarded annually by the IWMF, which since 1990 has been fighting for press freedom and supporting courageous female journalists.
This is one of Masrat Zahra’s most striking photographs. Great work.
“A woman protestor applied salt on her face, to protect herself from the teargas smoke during a clashes that erupted after Friday prayers in Kashmir.” November, 2019. pic.twitter.com/zF4xKoOmyc
— Mirza Waheed (@MirzaWaheed) April 20, 2020
“Countless communities around the world are facing enormous threat, harm, and censorship due to governmental threats and the declining state of press freedom worldwide,” said IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Munoz. “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.”
Award acknowledges ‘the work of journalists like me’
Zahra’s pictures provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of people living in Kashmir, which sees regular internet shutdowns and where thousands of civilians have been killed in fighting since 1989.
Arifa Jan suffers frequent panic attacks nearly 2 decades after her husband was gunned down by Indian army in 2000,she can still hear the gunshots and sees her husband’s blood-soaked body when she thinks of him,“There were 18 bullet holes and I still remember how deep they were." pic.twitter.com/QOw2wHzllU
— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) April 17, 2020
In one of her photos, a woman and two children carefully maneuver around rolls of barbed wire in the street. In another, a member of India’s security forces gestures at a young schoolgirl with his gun.
As the whole world is under a lockdown and many comparing and seeking tips from Kashmiris who have suffered worst state-imposed lockdowns in the recent years. I want to use a picture everyday here to let the world know how are lockdowns are different here. #Kashmirlockdown pic.twitter.com/dddg4VVbAs
— Masrat Zahra (@Masratzahra) March 30, 2020
As one of a few women photojournalists working in Kashmir, Zahra is frequently harassed and has frequently been labeled a threat to the Indian government. She is currently being investigated for photographs she posted on social media and could face a fine of up to seven years in prison, IWMF said in a statement.
Zahra said receiving the award “shows that the work of journalists like me coming from small places is being acknowledged.”
“I hope this honor will encourage me to perfect my skills and do my work more confidently. I also expect it to inspire other women photographers who are working in difficult environments,” she added.
In April 2020, Zahra was booked under the UAPA (Unlawful activities and prevention Act) for “uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offence against public tranquillity”.
Zahra’s work, which focuses on women and children in conflict areas, has previously appeared in publications such as Al Jazeera, the Quint and Washington Post, and received accolades.
This is the second honour in a year for Kashmiri Photojournalists. Earlier this year, three photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir are among the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners. The awards were announced virtually owing to the coronavirus outbreak.
Associated Press photographers Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan, and Channi Anand won the prize for feature photography for their work in capturing the shutdown in Kashmir following the abrogation of special provisions under Article 370 last year.
Three Photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir Win Pulitzer prize 2020