Indian journalist killed in line of duty by Taliban
New Delhi: Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, whose searing images of wars, riots and human suffering won global accolades including the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, was killed in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province on Friday while covering the region’s escalating conflict for Reuters. He was 38.
A largely self-taught photojournalist, Siddiqui is survived by his wife and two young children. Friends and family described him as a shy, friendly man from south Delhi’s Jamia Nagar who cared deeply about the issues he covered, and played cricket in a local park every week.
“Deeply disturbed by the sad news of the killing of a friend, Danish Siddiqui in Kandahar last night. The Indian journalist & winner of Pulitzer Prize was embedded with Afghan security forces,” Afghan ambassador Farid Mamundzay tweeted.
Mamundzay said Siddiqui, the chief photographer for Reuters in India, was with Afghan security forces when they were attacked by “terrorists” in Kandahar.
An Afghan commander told Reuters that Siddiqui was killed on Friday while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan in Spin Boldak.
Afghan special forces were fighting to retake the main market area of Spin Boldak when Siddiqui and the senior Afghan officer were killed in what was described as “Taliban crossfire”, the official said.
Siddiqui had earlier told Reuters he was injured in the arm by shrapnel on Friday while reporting on the clash. He was treated and was recovering when Taliban fighters retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak. Siddiqui was talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again, the Afghan commander said.
“I am deeply saddened with the shocking reports that Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed while covering the Taliban atrocities in Kandahar,” said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani .
“While I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mr Siddiqui’s family and also to our media family, I reiterate my government’s unwavering commitment to freedom of speech and protection of free media and journalists,” he added.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the Indian ambassador in Kabul was in touch with Afghan authorities regarding the development. “We are keeping his (Siddiqui’s) family informed of the developments,” he said.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the Indian embassy in Kabul was in touch with Afghan authorities to bring back Siddiqui’s body.
“We have been informed the body has been handed over by the Taliban to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We are actively facilitating the return of the body in coordination with Afghan authorities and the ICRC,” the people said.
Siddiqui was embedded with Afghan special forces in southern Kandahar province since earlier this week and was reporting on fighting between Afghan commandos and Taliban fighters.
‘HE SOUNDED COMFORTABLE’“I last spoke to him on Wednesday night. He spoke pleasantly and sounded quite comfortable. He anyway was quite used to tense reporting environments,” said Akhtar Siddiqui, Siddiqui’s father.
On Tuesday, Siddiqui reported on a mission by the Afghan special forces to rescue a wounded policeman who had been cut off from others and had been trapped by the Taliban for 18 hours. His report included graphic images of vehicles being targeted with rockets.
“Afghan Special Forces, the elite fighters are on various frontlines across the country. I tagged along with these young men for some missions,” he tweeted on July 13.
Siddiqui was part of a Reuters team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 2018 for documenting Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee crisis. A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.
In recent years, his images of the Delhi riots, migrant worker crisis last year and devastation during the second wave of Covid earlier this year also won high praise.
“Danish Siddiqui leaves behind an extraordinary body of work...Sincere condolences. RIP,” said Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur.
OBSESSED WITH CAMERASThe oldest of three children, Siddiqui was born on May 19, 1983. He became a journalist after a master’s degree in mass communications from Jamia Milia Islamia in 2007. “Even while holidaying with friends, Siddiqui would be lost in his cameras, even during the days when he could only own a digicam,” said his childhood friend, Humayun Shahzad.
His memories of photography were “a camera borrowed from a neighbour, black and white rolls of film bought with half my pocket money, and a school hiking trip in the Himalayas”, according to a Reuters profile.
As news of his demise spread on Friday, friends and neighbours gathered at his two-storey ancestral house in Jamia Nagar’s Ghaffar Manzil and remembered him as being focused on ensuring safety during reporting and always giving tips to colleagues on how to stay safe in conflict situations.
“It is such an irony, and so cruel, that a photojournalist so conscious about personal safety was killed on duty,” said Dr Sabeena Gadihoke, a professor who taught Siddiqui at Jamia.
After his post graduation, Siddiqui went on to work with some news channels before abruptly quitting his television job in 2010. “He left a well-paying job and went on to purchase a DLSR camera worth ₹1.5 lakh. That was the moment we knew he would make it big,” said his childhood friend Shams Raza.
Himani Singh, who also worked with Siddiqui in 2018, said she remembered his fearlessness. “He never feared any circumstances, he wasn’t afraid of any situation, and he never shied away from showing the truth through his images,” Singh said.
In his own words on the Reuters website, Siddiqui said he enjoyed capturing the human costs of conflicts. “I shoot for the common man,” he wrote.