(This story was first published on 19 July 2021 and has been republished from The Quint's archives to mark the first death anniversary of acclaimed Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who was slain in Afghanistan on 15 July 2021.)
Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Shubham Khurana
(As told to Maaz Hasan. Translated in English by Aastha Gulati)
Through Jamia Nagar’s gullies and Jamia Millia Islamia’s hallways in 2000, Danish Siddiqui and I had known each other for 25 years. He was a year junior to me, and even though we had studied in different departments, it had no bearing on our friendship or our daily routines.
Back then, I had a scooter, and along with another friend on his bike, our evenings were spent at the community center for a meal, watching a movie, or just spending time with each other, even if our wallets didn’t allow for it.
His death on Friday, 16 July, while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters, was confirmation of my worst fears. Danish’s courage as a photojournalist is well known, but in a conversation with him 15 days ago, I had begged him to cancel his assignment in Kandahar.
Before Danish left for Kabul, he visited me at Batla House in Delhi and broke the news. While he had already been to Afghanistan with the US forces, this time, it felt different.
My heart was sinking as I asked him to stay back. I told him he had achieved a lot at a young age, more than any other photojournalist in this country. As always, the decision was his own.
While his photos were inch-perfect, life in a conflict zones was not. Danish was previously asked to sleep in a bulletproof vest due to danger of an imminent attack, but he was unafraid and relentless.
Today, it is what so many are remembering him for and it is a source of immense pride for us to see the outpouring of support for the 38-year-old.
As we grew older, our meetings reduced. Danish shifted out, travelled abroad for work. However, as is the case with old friends, it felt like no time had passed every time he visited home.
The night before he left us, we spoke on a common group on WhatsApp, but he never shared how he was feeling or what he was going through. Danish's last call to me was from Kandahar, a call I missed. This, I will regret all my life. I am sorry, my friend. I wish I could hear your voice one more time.
Everyone is grieving Danish's loss, but I must laud his family's sabr (perseverance). Scores of people have visited his parents, sister, and brother – from friends, admirers, even JMI’s vice chancellor. His family had persistently been trying to get Danish's mortal remains back.
Camera & Bike Enthusiast
While most know of Siddiqui's love for the camera, he also loved biking. In 2004, he'd bought a Bajaj Pulsar, and I, a Hero Honda, which we drove to Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. The following year, we went to Uttarakhand, and then to Ladakh in 2007. Bike se girta bohot tha (he used to fall off the bike a lot), I remember.
All these trips are etched in memory, but the day Danish left us, I was transported back to our 2009 trip to Lahaul-Spiti Valley. Danish had been zooming past everyone on his bike. Our friend and I had lost track, and Danish was nowhere to be found for the next three hours. We cried and cried, afraid of the worst, wondering where he‘d be. On 16 July, I felt the same, familiar pain.
We finally found Danish clicking photos at a site nearby.
Even though he did not have enough money to buy a camera, he used his phone to capture conversations, stories, people, even his friends.
His photos have won him many accolades for their perfection and uniqueness; what Danish saw through his lens, I doubt any other photojournalist ever will.
The famous photo of the gun-wielding Jamia shooter has gone viral since. I was with him when the photo was taken, scared for our lives… and while the police stepped back when the gun was pulled by the shooter, Danish was unflinching.
Take the second COVID wave, where even field journalists did not enter ICUs or crematoriums — but Danish did. If pictures speak a thousand words, Danish’s body of work is the biggest testimony of the government‘s shortcomings.
This defines my friend’s professionalism, and speaks to the kind of human being he really was. Most importantly, while Danish perfectly captured human emotion in his photos, he never forgot being human himself.
The photo of a frenzied mob beating a Muslim man during the Delhi riots is proof. Danish not only saved the man in the photo, he also went to his house later to check on his well-being.
Much has been said about his professionalism, and more is to be remembered of Danish as a doting father and supportive friend. Mystery still surrounds his death, and I can’t help but wonder what Danish would have thought in his final moments.
Perhaps the only solace is that my friend was killed with his trusty camera in hand, doing what he knew best.
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)