Obituary of Danish: From ghetto to glory, winning world’s most prestigious award

Obituary: Okhla based, Jamia alumnus Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian photojournalist Danish

The death of Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who won Pulitzer Prize in 2018, in the violence in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak District a day ago, has left media fraternity, Jamia Millia Islamia teachers, alumni and Okhla residents in shock.

He was killed in Afghanistan while covering the fierce fighting between Afghan troops and Taliban, said the media. Danish was embedded with Afghan security forces, Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay said on Friday, reported the PTI.

Since the news surfaced in the international media on Friday, many of Danish, 38, who studied at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC) from 2005 -2007 and graduated with a Masters in Mass Communication, friends and neighbours turned up at his house in Ghaffar Manzil where he was born and brought up.

Danish was born on May 19, 1983.

Also, media persons landed in the area in the large number to speak to family members and friends who remembered Danish as a kind and compassionate person always ready to help others.

Danish had graduated with a degree in Economics from Jamia. After completing his degree from MCRC, Danish started working in a television as news correspondent later to take a plunge in photo journalism. The big break came in 2010 when he joined Reuters and since then has been known to capture some iconic photos that got him the Pulitzer award, become the first journalists to do so.

Later in the day, Danish father Professor Akhtar Siddiqui who retired from Jamia years ago addressed the media. Professor Siddiqui retired from Jamia as Dean, Faculty of Education and he was also Director of National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE).

The family is well-known in the locality. Professor Siddiqui said that Danish spoke to him two days back and talked about the assignment he was working upon in Afghanistan.

Jamia Vice Chancellor Najma Akthar, who spoke with Professor Siddiqui, termed the death a big loss to journalism and Jamia fraternity.

In 2018 the MCRC awarded Danish the Distinguished Alumni Award. Professor and Officiating Director of MCRC, Shohini Ghosh, said: “This is one of the saddest days in the life of the MCRC. Danish was one of the brightest stars in our hall of fame and a proactive alumnus who kept returning to his alma mater to share with students his work and experiences. We will miss him deeply but are determined to keep his memory alive.”

Danish won a number of awards for his work inclosing a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for his work as part of a seven-member Reuters team that documented the violence faced by Myanmar’s minority Rohingya community and their mass exodus to Bangladesh beginning August 2017, said the university.

The photograph for which he was given the Pulitzer shows a refugee woman sinking to her knees on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, fatigued and forlorn.

In the distance, a group of men unload the meagre belongings that they have carried with them in a small boat as they journeyed from their homes in Myanmar to Bangladesh for safety.

His last interaction with the students of MCRC was on April 26, 2021 when Sohail Akbar invited him to speak to the students of Convergent Journalism.

“It was at the deadly peak of the Covid-19 second surge and Danish was very busy,” remembers Akbar, adding that but as always, he made time for the students of the MCRC.

As a photojournalist, Danish covered several important stories in Asia, Middle East and Europe. Some of his works include covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rohingya refugees crisis, Hong Kong protests, Nepal earthquakes, Mass Games in North Korea and living conditions of asylum seekers in Switzerland.

He also produced a photo series on Muslim converts in England. His work has been widely published in scores of magazines, newspapers, slideshows and galleries – including National Geographic Magazine, New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Forbes, Newsweek, NPR, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, South China Morning Post, The Straits Times, Bangkok Post, Sydney Morning Herald, The LA Times, Boston Globe, The Globe and Mail, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Stern, Berliner Zeitung, The Independent, The Telegraph, Gulf News, Libèration and various other publications.

Danish has left behind two children and wife Rike.

Many of his friends in Ghaffar Manzil said they would miss him.

Journalist Bilal Zaidi said it is a huge loss to not only journalism fraternity but to the locality also. “Here was a person who from the ghetto of Okhla went on to make his name in the journalism world, winning world’s most prestigious journalism award. He was a role model for many youths in the locality,” he said.
Danish had won praise for his picture of the burning pyres of victims of coronavirus pandemic in India.