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“His were worth millions,” Teachers, students of Jamia Millia mourn death of Danish Siddiqui

Jamia Millia Islamia’s AJK Mass Communication Research Centre (AJKMCRC) journalism alums group has offered their deepest condolences to the family of Reuters chief photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner Danish Siddiqui who was killed Friday while covering fighting between Afghan troops and Taliban in Spin Buldak, Kandahar.

Siddiqui studied MA in Mass Communication at Jamia Millia Islamia’s AJK MCRC from 2005 to 2007.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Danish Siddiqui’s death. As fellow journalists, we admired his work and celebrated his success. As alumni of AJK MCRC and Jamia Millia Islamia, we are proud of his achievements. He will be remembered not just as an international award-winning photojournalist but also as a human being full of humility and kindness. Many of us have received his guidance and support — both at the university, where he returned frequently for interactions and on the field. Danish’s death is a reminder for all media organisations to prioritise journalists’ safety. We request the Indian government to support his family in this time of grave loss and help bring his remains back to the country. We extend our condolences to his family and friends. We request everyone to respect his memory by not sharing photographs of his body. Please preserve his dignity in death,: read a statement by Jamia Millia Islamia Journalism Alums Group.

According to Reuters, Siddiqui had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel earlier on Friday while reporting on the clash. He had been recovering after his treatment when Taliban fighters retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak. An Afghan military official told Reuters that the journalist had been speaking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again. However, the details could not be independently verified by Reuters.

Siddiqui began his career in television before joining Reuters in 2010. In the last 11 years, his work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests, Nepal earthquakes, Hindu mob killings of Muslims and mismanagement of second wave of COVID-19 in India.

In 2018, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.

He was currently heading the photography team at Reuters.

“It is absolutely devastating news and we’re still processing it. Danish was one of the brightest stars in MCRC’s Hall of fame. His passing will be deeply mourned. Danish was special not just because of all his professional achievements but because of the wonderful man he was. He has been one of those alumni who kept in regular touch with the photography department and came back to the campus often. He took a class last month as well,” said Prof. Shohini Ghosh, Director of AJK MCRC, who taught Siddiqui during his postgraduate degree at the institution.

Dr. Sabeena Gadihoke, professor of Video and TV Production, who also taught Siddiqui said that she and her colleagues are all still in shock as they were all so close to Danish. She said: “I remember him talking about his work at Reuters and being at some of the trickiest combat zones all over the world as a result thereof. But he was also a careful photojournalist and spoke at length about the precautions one must take in such situations. This is why his death under these circumstances comes as such a huge shock.”

According to professor Farhat Basir Khan, who taught Siddiqui at MCRC, “he was our eye and he gave voice and agency to thousands whose suffering might have been lost.”

“He’s gone too soon. Danish was an exceptional human being, an exemplary photographer with a deep sense of empathy, a keen sense of his surroundings, and an incredible eye for detail. Blessed with an almost superhuman ability, grit, tenacity to go after stories which have been both compelling and have advanced the cause of human rights in nations fraught with war and conflict…. If a picture is worth a thousand words, his were worth millions. He laid his life in the line of duty. And this is a tragedy of mammoth proportions. He will never be forgotten,” said Khan.

“He was so attached to MCRC that even at the peak of his coverage of COVID-19 second wave in India, he made time to spend two hours interacting with the students,” remembers Suhail Akbar, professor for photography at AJK MCRC.

For Javed Sultan, Ph.D. candidate at AJK MCRC, Siddiqui was always like an elder brother. “His parents’ house is only a few meters away from mine. We would often travel together while returning from reporting assignments. I remember one day while discussing my plan to pursue Ph.D., he too expressed an interest to pursue research sometime in the future,” says Sultan.

Seraj Ali, a multimedia reporter at The Wire, who attended a session by Siddiqui in Jamia while he was a student there in 2018, said that Danish Siddiqui was someone who they all looked up to, as a mentor and a brother.

Seraj says: “A friend and I once asked him how he took the photo of the mob lynching the man without being assaulted himself, and he pointed to the sky with one finger, a small smile running across his face. I can’t believe I will never get to find him in the field and be able to ask him a question again. I can’t believe that we have been blinded to the world that Danish exposed us to – the mirror that showed us who we truly have become as a people.”

Bhumika Saraswati, an outgoing postgraduate student of journalism at Jamia Millia and independent journalist said that she and her friends were writing one of their journalism exams today when this news broke. “The only memory I have of him is when he came to take a guest lecture in our first semester and showed us his work. His pictures had a wonderful ‘intent’ about them which stayed with me. Apart from the many good things he knowingly and unknowingly taught us, he also spoke at length on safety, survival, and family. I hope his family lives as well as he imagined, spoke, and thought of them,” she said.

Zeyad Masroor Khan, who was a journalism student at Jamia, worked with Siddiqui at Reuters during 2015-2017.

“He wouldn’t just shoot visuals but talk to people and own the place. This showed in his work as well. Something that Danish would capture could not be done by other photographers. Reuters India photo desk was heavily dependent on his work and he would always get the work done. Danish was among those journalists who were well-connected on the ground and great at leading the photo team,” Masroor khan said.

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