In memory of Siddiqui, Hasan, Ramrakha, three Indian journalists who died while covering the war

There is this poem by Lawrence Binyon called “For the Dead” and commemorating those who were killed in war, of which the fourth stanza reads:

They will not grow old, like us, who stay, grow old:
Age will not tire them, nor the years will condemn.
At sunset and in the morning
We will remember them.

The Danish Siddiqui, Najmul Hasan and Priya Ramrakha were Indian journalists who died young while covering the war. Siddiqui and Hasan were Indian citizens who worked from India for the Reuters news service and their last assignment was to cover a war in a third country. I briefly met one of them (Hasan). The other two were before and after my days of active journalism. Hasan was a correspondent while the other two were photojournalists.

Ramrakha, 33, was a Kenyan of Indian descent and was covering a war in Africa for the international news magazine Time / Life when he was killed in 1968 in crossfire between Nigerian soldiers and rebels from Biafra. A CBS film crew captured Ramrakha’s final moments. Ramrakha was shot, his camera fell to the ground, and he died while CBS correspondent Morley Safer attempted to transport him to safety. Many of Ramrakha’s finest photographs, believed to have been lost for 40 years, were found buried in a Nairobi garage in 2018. They have since been published in a hardcover book titled “Priya Ramrakha: The Recovered Archive”.

As the Priya Ramrakha Foundation says: “This work is a unique collection of street photographs and journalistic work across Africa and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Coming from an activist family of journalists, he has recounted through his work the anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles across Africa. One of the first African journalists to be employed by Time / Life, his iconic images defied stereotypes, censorship and editorial demand, and captured key moments ranging from the Mau Mau in the early 1950s to the independence movements of Africa in the 1960s. The Pan-African goal of Ramrakha has witnessed moments of political resistance from ordinary people and leading political figures in Africa and from the civil rights movement in the United States, from Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya in Kennedy, Miriam Makeba, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. His job was cut short when (at the age of 33) he was killed in crossfire covering the front lines of Biafra in 1968.

Najmul Hasan, 37, was killed during the Iran-Iraq war on August 11, 1983. According to The Baron (who describes himself as the essential source of information for people at Reuters, past and present), “August 8, 1983 , in the fourth year of the Iran-Iraq war, Najmul Hasan arrived in Iran from Delhi to replace the Tehran correspondent on leave. Three days later, he joined a group of journalists to visit the war front in western Iran. Journalists were briefed by Iranian officials, then set up a rocky ravine. A land mine exploded, killing Hasan and an Iranian government official. Several other journalists were injured. Hasan’s body was repatriated to India and he was buried in a Shiite ceremony on a shaded hill in a cemetery near the apartment in the Delhi press enclave where he had lived. He left behind a widow, Barbara, and two children.
When unveiling a commemorative plaque in London in 1984, Reuters editor-in-chief Glen Renfrew said: “Competing correspondents in India agreed on their assessment of Najmul Hasan, a truly professional journalist who had no need some smart stuff or writing. ” A Reuters Fellowship at the University of Oxford has been established in memory of Hasan, the sixth such fellowship created by Reuters to help advance journalism in developing countries. During his 67-month tenure at Reuters, Hasan had covered the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, presidential elections in Sri Lanka, and political upheaval in Nepal, Bangladesh, and northeastern Assam state. from India. Reuters, on the front page around the world. After his death, his wife Barbara was employed by Reuters as an office librarian. “I was a completely unskilled housewife, but I stayed 16 years,” she said.

The most recent death of an Indian journalist in a war zone is that of 38-year-old Reuters photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui, who was killed on Friday, July 16, 2021, while covering a clash between Taliban fighters and the special Afghan. who were trying to take over the main market area of ​​Spin Boldak on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. Siddiqui had been injured by shrapnel earlier in the day on July 16. He was treated and was talking with traders when the Taliban attacked again and he was killed, along with a senior Afghan officer. Siddiqui was integrated into the Afghan special forces. His body was handed over to the Afghan Red Crescent by the Taliban who said they were unaware of the circumstances in which Siddiqui was killed and that it was unfortunate that journalists entered the war zone without intimidate them. “Any journalist entering the war zone must let us know. We will take good care of this particular individual, ”said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Ahmed. Siddiqui is survived by his wife Rike (a German national) and two children.

Siddiqui was part of the Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for reportage photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis. During his 11-year stint with Reuters, Siddiqui had covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugee crisis, the earthquake in Nepal, the Easter Sunday explosions (2019) in which 250 people have deaths in Colombo, the Hong Kong protests, and, more recently, the Second Crown Wave mass cremations in Delhi and other parts of the country.

“I shoot for the common man who wants to see and feel a story of a place where he cannot be present himself,” Siddiqui said, confirmed by his award-winning photograph (September 11, 2017) of a Rohingya out of print. woman kneeling and touching the shore at Shah Porir-Dwip after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat across the Bay of Bengal. In the foreground of the Reuters photograph is the kneeling woman as the backdrop is provided by the blue sky and deep sea.

In an eloquent statement for the death of Danish Siddiqui, the Editors Guild of India noted that his work was a living testament to the axiom of photojournalism that “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. While describing his death “as a stark reminder of the great risks journalists take to report from the front lines of the conflict.”

However, it would be simplistic to register Ramrakha, Hasan and Siddiqui as three journalists who did everything they could to be killed. All we have to do is remember Marie Colvin, the fiercely independent journalist who was killed along with photographer Rémi Ochlik by Syrian army artillery fire at a media center in Homs on the evening of February 22, 2012, shortly after appearing live on the BBC, Channel 4, CNN and ITN News via satellite phone and described the “ruthless” bombings and sniper attacks on civilian buildings and people in the streets of Homs by government forces. On April 26, 2001, she lost sight in her left eye due to the explosion of a Sri Lankan army rocket-propelled grenade while reporting on the humanitarian disaster caused by a government blockade of food and medical supplies in the northern region of Tamil. During the last days of the war, in the summer of 2009, she was back in Sri Lanka, reporting war crimes against Tamil civilians.

In 1999 in East Timor, Colvin was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children in a complex besieged by Indonesian-backed forces. Refusing to abandon the women and children, she constantly reported on their plight on television until they were all evacuated four days later. “You’ll never get where you’re going if you recognize the fear,” she told an interviewer. This quote was repeated at the end of the film “A Private War”, based on his life and released in 2018.

Colvin had always stressed the importance of the media “to enlighten humanity to the extreme, pushed to the point of unbearable.” As she said, “My job is to testify.”

This is what Ramrakha, Hasan and Siddiqui did throughout their careers and until the moment they were killed.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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