Ex-KO Staffer Won Pulitzer: ‘Despite Pressure, Did My Job Honestly’

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Khan along with his wife and two kids were glued to laptop on Tuesday night to hear the announcement. And once the news came, the family broke into midnight celebrations.

During his two-decade long career as photojournalist, Mukhtar Khan maintained professional standards and went on to inspire a generation of photojournalists in Kashmir. His Pulitzer is the recognition of his large body of work on Kashmir’s ground reality.

Auqib Javeed

FATEH KADEL, Srinagar — Twenty two years before he would win the prestigious Pulitzer Award, Mukhtar Khan had walked in Kashmir Observer newsroom as a promising rookie, whose photos were class apart on the daily’s frontpage.

“Khan had that spark and eye for detail,” Sajjad Haider, editor-in-chief of Kashmir Observer, said. “But I made him run around as I could see promise in him.”

That promise culminated into the highest journalism award, Pulitzer, on Tuesday, when Khan along with his Associated Press (AP) colleagues, Dar Yasin and Channi Anand, won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.

The trio got the prize for their “striking images of life”.

“It was unbelievable,” Khan told Kashmir Observer. “For a moment I couldn’t believe that I have won the award.”

Khan along with his wife and two kids were glued to laptop on Tuesday night to hear the announcement. And once the news came, the family broke into midnight celebrations.

Soon as the family’s happy frame went viral on social media, the entire Kashmir erupted in joy.

Mukhtar Khan

A resident of Fateh Kadal in old Srinagar, Khan was born in the year 1979. As a passionate photographer since his childhood, he comes from a well-to-do family where all his brothers inherited established family business spread beyond Jammu and Kashmir.

He despite being youngest and darling of the family opted out and chose the “tough and challenging” profession at the height of insurgency in Kashmir.

In his two decade long career, Khan has extensively covered Kashmir Conflict and its myriad shades.

Before joining AP in 2000, he worked as Kashmir Observer staffer for over three years.

“I learned a lot at Kashmir Observer,” Khan, who acquired photography skills from another noted photo journalist Rafiq Maqbool, said. “The friendly newsroom atmosphere boosted my confidence. We would daily discuss pictures like story ideas.”

He said the editor-in-chief of the daily would give his pictures prominent space in the newspaper.

Last summer, Khan along with his colleagues covered Kashmir amid complete lockdown which included a sweeping curfew and shutdowns of phone and internet services.

“It was very difficult time for my tribe to work in the field after the abrogation of Article 370 on 5th August,” Khan said.

“We would click pictures and reach the Srinagar airport, where we would convince Kashmiri passengers to drop photo chips to our Delhi office. There was lot of pressure but we had to show the ground reality to the world and I believe we did our job honestly.”

It was the time when journalists were falling in lines for internet connection in government-run “Media Facilitation Centre” in Srinagar.

Previously, Khan bagged the Commonwealth Photography award and Atlanta Photojournalism award.

The news of Pulitzer Award came at a time when the journalists in Kashmir are facing state summons.

“Summons, harassment and intimation is part of job,” Khan said. “We should keep journalism ethics in mind and work honestly.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib did his Masters in Convergent Journalism from Central University of Kashmir (CUK) and is currently working with Kashmir Observer as Special Correspondent. He has been contributing stories for the newspaper especially on Politics, Security & defence and has a keen interest in Environment.

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