Masrat Zahra has covered Kashmir since 2015, and her pictures of human rights violations and everyday hardship have received international acclaim. Consequently, Zahra is spending this year at the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. The Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists provide accomplished journalists with an academic year of study, collaborative learning, and access to the university's resources to pursue journalism projects.
“I’m thrilled to have been chosen as a fellow,” says Zahra.”It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the work I can do here.”
Zahra holds a master’s degree in convergent journalism from the Central University of Kashmir. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, and The Caravan, among others. In 2022, she won the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism and the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) for her images depicting conflict in Indian-controlled Kashmir and its toll on local communities. The IWMF jury praised her work for their "humanity" and her particular focus on the stories of women. The jury described her photos as filled with a sense of "dread and community."
As her work garnered more attention, the Indian government charged Zahra under an anti-terrorism law for posting photographs on social media in 2020. They claim that her work “glorifies anti-national activities,” and she faces up to seven years in prison when she returns to Kashmir.
In response to the charges and the prosecution of other Kashmiri journalists, a viral movement started, #StandwithMasrat. Zahra and her work have received support from all over the globe.
In addition, she was selected for a one-year fellowship by Hamburg Stiftung for politically-persecuted people, and she moved to Germany before her Knight-Wallace tenure.
“This fellowship came at the perfect time for me,” adds Zahra. “I can’t go back now, but if I apply for asylum status, I’m not able to return. My family is there.”
Zahra’s Knight-Wallace Project
Due to all her recent hardships, Zahra will cover the persecution of minorities in India for her Knight-Wallace project.
India’s constitution defines the nation as secular and protects freedom of religion for the many faiths represented there. But there are growing concerns that religious and other minority groups are targeted with persecution and discrimination. Zahra will research the history and dynamics surrounding the current situation for Muslims and other minorities in India and the government's possible role in any violence or polarization.
“I have a lot of journalist friends in jail,” says Zahra. “Their only crime is reporting on what they see daily in Kashmir. I feel someone has to show the world what is happening there. I would love to be at home pursuing my personal life, but I’m a journalist now, and that comes first.”
All accompanying photos by Masrat Zahra.