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Modi turned down an Indian hero

The Dane Siddiqui deserves to be an Indian hero. An immensely talented photojournalist who grew up in a segregated Muslim neighborhood in New Delhi, he became the first Indian to win a Pulitzer Prize for Game Photography. His tragic death earlier this month at the age of 38 while on duty in Afghanistan while reporting clashes between the Afghan National Army and the Taliban may have been a cause for remembrance of national unity.

Siddiqui’s death was treated as a national story and some government officials made solemn expressions of condolences. But the loudest reaction was the silence from India’s Twitter-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and some of his supporters took this as a signal to tarnish Siddiqui’s work and life. A moment of potential solidarity thus became a moment of discord in which India’s Muslim community felt alienated and unrecognized for their contribution to Indian society.

The Dane Siddiqui deserves to be an Indian hero. An immensely talented photojournalist who grew up in a segregated Muslim neighborhood in New Delhi, he became the first Indian to win a Pulitzer Prize for Game Photography. His tragic death earlier this month at the age of 38 while on duty in Afghanistan while reporting clashes between the Afghan National Army and the Taliban may have been a cause for remembrance of national unity.

Siddiqui’s death was treated as a national story and some government officials made solemn expressions of condolences. But the loudest reaction was the silence from India’s Twitter-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and some of his supporters took this as a signal to tarnish Siddiqui’s work and life. A moment of potential solidarity thus became a moment of discord in which India’s Muslim community felt alienated and unrecognized for their contribution to Indian society.

Siddiqui was chief photographer for the international news agency Reuters and won the Pulitzer in 2018 for reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis. He photographed her arrival from Myanmar on the coast of Bangladesh and captured an iconic image of a woman fresh off a boat and touching the sand on the shore who seemed both exhausted and relieved from the trip, a vicious campaign escape ethnic violence. Siddiqui photographed the Hong Kong protests and many other events in the region.

But Siddiqui became a local hero for his critical work in India. He routinely exposed the shortcomings of the Indian government. In 2019, his pictures shattered the false narrative that students protesting an anti-Muslim citizenship law in New Delhi incited violence. It was again Siddiqui who took the picture of an unarmed Muslim man who was beaten by a Hindu mob in Delhi when the capital was embroiled in Hindu Muslim unrest. Most notably, Siddiqui was one of the first to take pictures of crematoria with pyres of Hindus who died of the coronavirus this summer. His recordings and photographs showed the extent of the crisis in India and made the world aware of it.

Modi’s silence over Siddiqui’s death was noticeable after he immediately tweeted his condolences when a Hindu journalist known for his pro-government stance recently died of a heart attack after testing positive for COVID-19. Additionally, in India, as elsewhere, winning international awards is a big deal. The prime minister, according to critics, could easily have written a few words to Siddiqui’s friends and family. It is possible that Modi was too busy working as Prime Minister. But his commitment to Muslims is bad, to say the least. He was previously accused of deliberately failing to contain pogroms against Muslims when he was Prime Minister of Gujarat State in 2002 and of generally attempting to deepen the social and political divide between Hindus and Muslims and between Hindu conservatives and liberal democrats.

It would also be in line with Modi’s record if he harbored resentment against Siddiqui, who criticized his work as prime minister. When Siddiqui’s images of the pandemic caught international attention, Modi’s supporters accused him of insensitivity to profiting from the family’s private grief. The criticism was intended to divert attention from the high death toll that the Indian government was trying to hide. Siddiqui’s photos were likely to harm Modi and his party in the elections by showing that he had failed to protect Hindus, his electorate, from mass death.

Modi’s fans started trolling Siddiqui online for filming the funeral pyres, and when he was killed they attributed his death to bad karma, suggesting that he deserved to be shot. One of the most offensive tweets contrasted Siddiqui’s picture of a crowded crematorium with his own bullet-riddled body. This did not come from a fringe element, but from a member of Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu organization allied with Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party.

Mohammad Meharban, Siddiqui’s protégé, said a few words from the prime minister turned off the trolls on the internet, but his silence empowered them. While Meharban did not believe that most Hindus despised Siddiqui, he did accuse them of engaging in a hate campaign against Muslims by failing to oppose it. “Most of the people in the country support Modi Ji, and that means they support his anti-Muslim policies,” he said. “I think that’s because Modi Ji and his party have long brainwashed Hindus against Muslims. Our old Hindu friends now say we are not patriots, just them. Modi Ji and his agents in the media turned most of the Hindus against us. “

In the end, Siddiqui was claimed by Muslims, the media and the Liberal Democrats in New Delhi, but most of the rest of India either knew nothing about him or took the lead from the Prime Minister, quietly denying him and ignoring the honor he did Brought land. The life of the young journalist and the reaction to his death in India revealed a lot about his homeland – as it was once founded on secular ideals, but is now quickly slipping into a majority state in which Muslims feel uncertain, besieged and insecure about their future. Siddiqui’s story is not just about the stories he told, but also about the ones he lived.

Siddiqui grew up in the Jamia Nagar neighborhood of New Delhi, where Muslims of all classes and ideologies – conservative, moderate, and liberal intellectuals – lived side by side and were mutually detested by their Hindu neighbors. Siddiqui was the son of a dean and professor in the Faculty of Education at Jamia Millia Islamia University and was educated in a monastery. But in India, even attaining higher education and economic status does not wash off the stigma associated with being a Muslim. Bilal Zaidi, also an Indian journalist, grew up in the same alley near Jamia Nagar and knew Siddiqui well. “I knew exactly where he came from, a Muslim from a ghetto who spoke broken English,” said Zaidi. “I knew the struggles of a boy from a stigmatized neighborhood. For him to get a Pulitzer over many others who went to [Oxford, Cambridge,] Harvard and where not, was remarkable. “

He went on to explain the obstacles boys like him and Siddiqui faced on a daily basis. “Muslims have nowhere to rent a house outside of ghettos and they struggle to open bank accounts. Before the digital transformation, we couldn’t order food online, or take an auto rickshaw or taxi. All that required a human interface was a fight, ”said Zaidi. “We’d be told straight to our faces that Jamia Nagar was mini-Pakistan.”

Despite all odds, Siddiqui was among those who made a name for themselves and successfully challenged the stereotype. He was an Indian who made India proud and became the hero of the local youth who saw him, not the bearded clerics who spit out antiquated views, as a more accurate representative of their endeavors.

“Pulitzer is a big prize, and I have a feeling that there aren’t many Indian Muslim children growing up with the ambition to win a Pulitzer, a Wimbledon or an Oscar,” said Mujibur Rehman, professor at the College of Journalism in Jamia Millia Islamia, where Siddiqui studied. “This has been seen as an achievement, especially at a time when the Muslim community in India is going through a deep crisis and is not sure where it is leading.

“So here was a guy who represented what Muslims could be, their pursuit of dignity, so to speak. He brought the story of their suffering on a global platform and these things that are connected with people. “

A seasoned Indian actor and superstar, Dilip Kumar, died a few days before Siddiqui’s assassination. He was also a Muslim but had changed his name from Mohammed Yusuf Khan to a Hindu name early in his career. Modi tweeted about his death, appropriately expressing a sense of national loss. But Siddiqui didn’t make it, either because he was too young or not a Bollywood star, or maybe because he was doing his job exposing the government’s failings. Or maybe because he came from an area that refused to accept the Modi’s controversial anti-Muslim law that threatened their status as Indian citizens.

We may never know exactly why the Indian prime minister shied away from recognizing a brave Indian journalist, but his reluctance widened the gap between Hindus and Muslims, between fascists and liberal democrats. The latter felt insecure and unnoticed in their own country. Many intellectuals, including many Muslims, were also increasingly afraid of speaking out against Modi.

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