Kashmiri journalist Safina Nabi, who was chosen to receive a media award from the Maharashtra Institute of Technology-World Peace University (MIT-WPU) for her exceptional report, found her accolade abruptly canceled just on the eve of the award ceremony. The decision, as per a report by The Wire, was allegedly influenced by right-wing political pressure.
Safina’s winning report, titled ‘The Half Widows of Kashmir,’ originally published on Scroll, was recognized in the category of ‘journalism that promoted empathy, understanding, and inclusivity in society.’ The report shed light on the enduring struggles of the ‘half widows’ of Kashmir, who have been denied their property rights for decades after their husbands’ disappearances. This impactful piece was created with the support of the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting.
The news of her award was conveyed to Safina via a phone call and an email from Dhiraj Singh, the director of the Department of Media & Communication at MIT-WPU, on October 11. Travel arrangements had been made for her, and she was scheduled to depart for Pune on October 17.
However, on the afternoon of October 16, an unidentified faculty member contacted Safina to deliver the shocking news of the award’s cancellation and strongly advised against her trip to Pune. The faculty member cited political pressure as the reason behind the sudden decision and expressed concerns about Safina’s safety at the event.
“Everything was in place and for a week they kept reaching out for travel arrangements etc,” she said. “I was supposed to travel on the 17th of October and on the 16th of October around 2 o’clock in the afternoon I received a call on the other side of the phone was a woman who introduced herself as one of the faculty members of the university. She mentioned that they are canceling my award and I am not supposed to travel now. When I asked for the reasons she mentioned that there is a lot of political pressure that they are facing for awarding me. She also said it would be highly risky for me to travel or be present at the venue,” she told The Wire.
Safina, at first, suspected it was a prank call and sought confirmation from Rajeesh Kumar, an assistant professor at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, who had been her primary point of contact. To her astonishment, he confirmed the award’s cancellation.
In response, Nabi requested the university to provide written reasons for their decision, but the university declined, choosing to communicate only through phone calls and citing political pressure as the primary cause.
Safina reached out to the jury members, who were equally unaware of the cancellation. Upon learning about the situation, the jury members decided to boycott the event where they were originally scheduled to participate in a discussion on “media and democracy.”
“Three jury members were in Pune to attend the event and participate in a discussion (Sunanda, Sandeep and I). On learning of the cancellation, we discussed amongst ourselves and decided that the best statement to make would be to not attend the event,” M.K. Venu told The Wire.
Venu, founding editor of The Wire, commented on the situation, saying, “Kashmiri journalists are being subjected to altogether different level of censorship and harassment which is totally unconscionable. That too led to my decision not to attend the event.”