Photo journalism award for documenting NRC struggles

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

The winner of the Ramnath Goenka Award in the Photo Journalism category documented the plight of people who were dropped from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and put a face to an untold human story.

Zishaan A Latif won the award for his photo essay, The arduous struggle for inclusion in the NRC, which was published in The Caravan in October 2019.

About a month after the NRC list was released, Latif made his way through four districts in Assam, documenting people’s struggle for inclusion in the NRC. Most of those he met were poor Muslims who did not understand the NRC process and had been excluded from the first two drafts of the list, published in December 2017 and July 2018. In some cases, despite possessing legacy documents to prove their
Indian ancestry, they faced the prospect of being sent to detention centres.

“I have a close association with Assam because I have been pursuing a story since 2015 about the erosion of an island called Majuli. When

I went in 2019, I saw something larger brewing in Assam, which was the NRC. I was hearing news from different parts of the country that
you had to prove your citizenship to be part of a national register. That piqued my interest because I also have a Muslim name. But objective sometimes does become subjective, you can’t help it. I then pitched the story to The Caravan and they were on-board with it,” Latif said.

He said the biggest challenge in his reporting was navigating between the objective and the subjective. “You might do all your research before going to report, but when you see the ground reality, you see traumatic stories of young people taking their lives because of the fear of being excluded from the list. Nothing can prepare you for such stories. The challenges were emotional, more than anything else,” he said.

The story left an indelible mark on readers. “It has created an awareness in parts of the country where people would probably sit back and think that this (NRC) is not going to affect them, and made them realise that it will affect all of us. I think the media and the readers are asking questions, but there aren’t any answers,” Latif said.

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