New Delhi: Around 16 vice-chancellors of Indian universities, retired defence personnel, former senior bureaucrats, Olympians and five Padma Shri awardees are among the over 100 people who have signed an open letter to the administrator, board and jury of the Pulitzer Prize 2020. They have objected to the Pulitzers awarded to photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir, and the citation that came with their awards.
The letter comes in the wake of the Jammu and Kashmir-based Associated Press photojournalists — Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin — bagging Pulitzers in the Feature Photography category. It also questions the authenticity of the work done by two of the photojournalists — the Valley-based Khan and Yasin.
The signatories to the open letter include Padma Shri awardees Dr. K.K. Aggarwal, Jawahar Kaul, Kanwal Singh, Darshanlal Jain and Dr K.N. Pandita, retired defence personnel such as Lt. Cmdr Harinder Sikka (retd), who is also the producer of the National Award winning film Nanak Shah Fakir and author of Calling Sehmat that inspired Bollywood blockbuster Raazi, and Major Gen Dhruv Katoch.
Other signatories include Prof. Kuldeep Agnihotri, Vice-Chancellor, Central University, Himachal Pradesh; Prof. Rajneesh Kumar Shukla, V-C, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi University, Wardha, Maharashtra; Prof. Rama Shankar Dubey, V-C, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar; Prof. S.P.M. Tripathi, V-C, Rajiv Gandhi Central Tribal University, Amarkantak, Dr. M.P. Markandeya Ahuja, V-C, Gurugram University, Haryana, among others.
Wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Yogeshwar Dutt, besides BJP MP from Chandigarh Kirron Kher, have also signed on the letter.
‘Terms like contested territory for Kashmir an attack on sovereignty of India’
The open letter begins with an attack on the citation of the Pulitzers awarded to the three photojournalists.
“Your website mentions the names Channi Anand, Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin of Associated Press for the Pulitzer prize with a citation — ‘For striking images of life in the contested territory of Kashmir as India revoked its independence, executed through a communications blackout’,” it reads.
“To begin with, by using the term ‘contested territory’ for ‘Kashmir’, you exposed yourself by showcasing your poor knowledge and understanding of historical facts related to Jammu-Kashmir,” it adds. “The usage of terms like ‘contested territory’ is an attack on the sovereignty and integrity of India and disrespect to the Constitution of India because Jammu-Kashmir is an integral part of India and there is no dispute about it. Read the ancient history of India, and you will find that this state has been one of the most prominent parts of India for the last several centuries.”
It further goes on to state that the citation is a “deliberate attempt to project India in a bad light”.
“When you write ‘India revoked its (Kashmir’s) independence, executed through a communications blackout’, it is nothing but again a demonstration of lack of knowledge or deliberate attempt to project India in a bad light. If the communication of an area is restricted temporarily for security reasons, how can it be interpreted as ‘revoking independence’ of that area!!” the letter states. “Either you do not understand the meaning of Independence, or you are intentionally trying to create sensational news and pat your backs for supposed courage. Is this the ‘excellence’ you stand for? Also, remember you are referring to that state of India, which has been a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and propaganda for almost forty years.”
“Both the civilians and the security personnel have suffered heavy losses due to terrorism in J&K,” the letter adds. “Thus, anything that is directly or indirectly supporting the separatist and the divisive agenda of Pakistan is also supporting terrorism in the region, and we are sure you do not wish to support terrorism as Americans! It is appalling to see an organisation like yours that claims ‘Honouring Excellence in Journalism and the Arts‘ making such a mistake.”
Letter attacks Khan and Yasin
The letter particularly attacks Valley-based AP photographs Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin, accusing them of promoting photos that are “full of venom against their own country, people and police”.
“The purpose of the Pulitzer Prize is to encourage free journalism. Ironically, by giving the prize to photographers like Dar Yasin and Mukhtar Khan, you are promoting journalism and photography of lies, misrepresentation of facts and separatism,” the letter states. “We have not included the name of Channi Anand here because his photo does not malign India and unlike the other two photojournalists, it does not use the term ‘Indian-controlled Kashmir’. What we find more shocking is that before conferring this prize, you did not even bother to check whether these reporters/photographers have been telling the truth to the world!!”
The letter also cites what it says are examples of biased journalistic work by the Kashmiri photojournalists.
“For example, Ali and Hubaib, both Pakistani terrorists were killed in an encounter in the Kashmir region of J&K when they held a man and his 12-year-old nephew hostage in their own house, on March 21, 2019,” it states. “A report by Yasin Dar on March 22, 2019, with a photo of relatives grieving over the dead body of a young boy states — ‘Kashmiri villagers grieving near the body of an 11-year-old boy, Atif Mir, during his funeral procession in Hajin village, north of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir, March 22, 2019. Indian security forces killed five militants and the 11-year-old hostage in three separate clashes in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir’. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin).”
“In other words, the report is blaming the Indian forces for the death of the young boy, besides it is again propagating the misinformation by calling Jammu-Kashmir as ‘India Controlled portion of Kashmir‘,” it adds. The letter quotes several news reports of the incident to state that the “perpetrators in this case were terrorists and not the Indian forces”.
The letter also accuses Khan and Yasin of “spreading fake news”.
“Even the other photos by the photographers mentioned above are full of venom against their own country, people and police. Winning applause by showing a man kicking the J&K Police van, photographs of protests, violence, aggression, these photographers and AP news agency are strengthening the anti-India propaganda of Pakistan, and organisations like yours are indirectly encouraging terrorism,” the letter states. “By supporting those who are spreading such fake news, you are defaming the Pulitzer Prize and promoting journalism of lies, deceits and misrepresentations. It is a shame that a prize that claims to be for ‘progress and elevation of journalism’ is promoting hatred, division and falsehood.”
‘Kashmir an integral part of India’
The letter also quotes the Instrument of Accession and passages from the book Valley of Kashmir to emphasise that J&K is an integral part of India.
“Walter W. Lawrence in The Valley of Kashmir wrote, ‘Kashmir can claim the distinction of being the only region of India which possesses an uninterrupted series of written records of its history, reaching back beyond the period of the Mohammedan conquest and deserving the name of real chronicles’,” the letter reads. “Walter W. Lawrence, (ICS) was the settlement commissioner for Jammu Kashmir, (Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press Warehouse, 1895.) Considering it either a weak understanding or jaundiced perceptions about Indian history, we are providing with the details of the book, if at all, you wish to enlighten yourselves. There are many other references available in historical and legal terms; what you need is just a will to know the facts.”
The letter highlights the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh. “The hereditary ruler of the Princely State of Jammu Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, had signed the Instrument of Accession to join the dominion of India on October 26, 1947. This IOA was signified by the then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten,” it states. “Thus, by following the legal procedure, created and endorsed by the British government, the Congress and the Muslim League, Jammu Kashmir became an integral part of Indian Union. To understand the process of territorial integration, please read historical and legal documents pertaining to the Constitution of India.”
The letter also quotes the Constitution in this regard.
“The Indian Constitution was framed by the elected representatives of people of India, including four representatives from Jammu & Kashmir, (for your kind information Sheikh Abdullah, grandfather of Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of J&K, was also a part of this team),” it says. “Schedule 1, Article 1 of the Indian Constitution clearly stated that Jammu Kashmir is a state of Union of India and from October 31st 2019 it is declared as Union Territory of Jammu Kashmir & Union Territory of Ladakh. No other country in the world has ever claimed Jammu-Kashmir to be a part of their territory, nor can any country make such a claim. All the people of the earlier state and currently the Union Territories, carry Indian passport and have citizenship of India.”
The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, an RSS affiliate, and author of two books on the RSS.