The Human Rights and Religious Freedom Journalism Awards (HRRFJA) were presented by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a Washington, D.C. -based organisation dedicated to maintaining India’s tolerance and pluralism. Awards were created to raise awareness of stories and perspectives that mainstream/elite media often overlook. When it came time to give prizes at the virtual awards ceremony on June 19, the winning articles demonstrated remarkable and in-depth reporting on human rights violations in Kashmir and persecution of Muslims during COVID-19.
In order to raise awareness of stories and viewpoints that the mainstream/elite media generally overlooks, IAMC created these awards. Syed Ali, president of the IAMC, said that this year’s jury had a difficult time selecting winners due of the pressure the Indian government places on the media. He said that he admired the journalists for their bravery in reporting on crucial issues affecting Indian minority and those with less financial resources. They deserve our gratitude. According to Ali, recognising journalism that exposes power abuses and highlights how dangerous India has become for the country’s almost 300 million religious minorities is something we are pleased to be part of.
President of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman voiced her alarm about India’s troubling trends toward tyranny and thanked journalists for their fortitude during her keynote presentation. When strong forces strive to conceal the truth and restrict access to information, it makes the work of journalists more difficult and frequently hazardous, Goodman said in her keynote address.
British journalist and author Dr. Yvonne Ridley concurred with Goodman’s conclusion. It is now one of the most hazardous areas for journalists to write critically about India’s distinctive traits, notably the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Narendra Modi, she said. Dr. Ridley further said that the HRRF Journalism Prizes provide hope and peace to Indian journalists on ground who report the painful truths. Gypsy Guillen Kaiser, the activist and communicator with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), spoke about the harsh treatment of Muslim journalists in India.
In 2018, India established a new record for the number of journalists imprisoned in a single year, according to monthly jail census. India’s incarcerated journalists are mostly Muslim as of Dec. 1, 2021, According to the research. Even more essential is to recognise and honour the crucial work of Indian journalists and remind us of our obligation to keep them safe in light of recent troubling developments in India, Guillen Kaiser said.
The two Kashmiri journalists Syed Shahriyar and Shahid Tantray have won the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Journalism Awards (HRRFJA) for the year 2022 despite the Indian government’s efforts to quell the voices of journalists. It shows that Kashmiri journalists are internationally getting recognition, despite the fact that Modi’s government is suppressing Kashmiri voices. The News Minute’s Priyanka Thirumurthy and Shahid Tantray won the prize for best video report. The New Issue Magazine UK’s Syed Shahriyar won the prize for the best image story. Overall, Aishwarya Iyer and Ismat Ara were also honoured with the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Young Journalist of the Year Award. For her work on religious freedom and human rights, Akanksha Kumar of Newslaundry won the award for outstanding written reporting.
A number of Kashmiri journalists who have been recently arrested including Fahad Shah, the editor of news outlet Kashmir Walla, the Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, and Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter for The Kashmir Walla. In the past, Khurram Parvez is a HR activist and the program coordinator of rights group the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in Jammu and Kashmir has been arrested because of his efforts to highlight violations of human rights. Shujaat Bukhari was a Kashmiri journalist and the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based newspaper was shot dead outside his office in the Press Enclave area of Srinagar on 14 June 2018 by Indian forces for writing on human rights. This exposes that Indian government would not accept the achievements of Kashmiri journalists and would penalize them if not now but in future.
According to the Indian American Muslim Council, the greatest pieces included the Covid-19 epidemic, prejudice against Muslims, and human rights violations in Kashmir. Indian American Muslim Council president Syed Ali adds, ‘We developed these awards to draw attention to situations and perspectives that mainstream/elite media normally overlooks.’ In spite of the fact that Indian government has considerable influence over the country’s media, our judges selected the winners.
Journalists who dare to write on India’s underdogs have been lauded by Ali as well. In an interview with Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman, she again and again expressed concern about India becoming more autocratic. When strong forces strive to conceal the truth and restrict access to information, it makes the work of journalists more difficult and frequently hazardous. Writing on the negative aspects of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in India has grown more difficult for British writer Yvonne Ridley. Indian journalists who put in long hours on the ground and report the brutal facts are given solace and hope, according to Ridley.
Freedom of the press to report on matters of public interest is a crucial indicator of democracy. A free press may inform citizens about the successes and failures of their leaders, convey the needs and preferences of the people to the government, and facilitate the free interchange of ideas. When media freedom is restricted, these important processes fail, resulting in poor judgments and harmful outcomes for both leaders and the public.
The author holds an M.Phil from National Defence University and freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected]