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Guwahati: Independent investigative journalist from Assam Pari Saikia has won the prestigious Lorenzo Natali Media Prize Award 2021 for her story on the condition of Rohingya brides.

The story was a part of fellowship by the Impulse Model Press Club – a part of the Impulse NGO Network (INGON), called Trans-border Human Trafficking Fellowship. The NGO was founded in 1993 by Hasina Kharbhih, to address the issue of unsafe migration, exploitation, and human trafficking.

Read: Rohingya brides thought they were fleeing violence; then they met their grooms

Saikia won the Grand Prize for her investigative story, published by VICE World News – a media based in one of the European Union’s partner countries on development and cooperation.

Honoured by the recognition received through this esteemed award, Saikia narrated her own experience of pursuing the ambitious and complex story, investigation for which took her more than a year.

“Right from the beginning, finding these women in Kashmir, to approaching them in the houses they were sold into and then tracing their family members in Rohingya refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, all this was very difficult,” said Pari Saikia.

“I am thankful to Hasina Kharbhih and Karma Paljor for their support throughout the entire duration of the investigation,” said the journalist, further extending heartfelt gratitude to her friends who supported her in Delhi, Kashmir and Bangladesh.

“This win is not for me alone or for Impulse NGO Network, but for all the women in the story who trusted me enough to share their stories with the hope to be heard and recognised,” said the awardee.

Also read: Rohingya refugee leader shot dead in Bangladesh camp

The 2021 edition of the Lorenzo Natali Media Prize Awards, initially scheduled to be held at Brussels was cancelled and held virtually on September 30. Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen awarded prizes in each of the three categories – Grand Prize, Europe Prize and the prize for the Best Emerging Journalist.

The three main prizes were awarded to journalists for their writings on ten diverse issues, including ‘inequality’, ‘poverty eradication’, ‘sustainable development’, ‘environment, biodiversity and climate action’, ‘digital gap’, ‘connectivity’, ‘e-governance and entrepreneurship’, ‘jobs and employment’; ‘education and skills development’, ‘migration’, ‘healthcare access and assistance’, as well as ‘peace, democracy and human rights’.

The award-winning story about the Rohingya brides

In her story, Saikia writes about the harrowing experience of Rohingya women on being sold to men in Kashmir. She investigated how these women were sent from Myanmar via Bangladesh and handed over to Indian traffickers in Kashmir, who held them for days under appalling conditions. These women were denied food and medical care all throughout, even as they begged to return to their families in Myanmar.

An extensive field researcher

A member of the Impulse Model Press Club, a part of Shillong-based Impulse NGO Network (INGON), Pari Saikia’s field research as a reporter in remote parts of Assam and in New Delhi drove her to focus on human trafficking as a journalist, and she has been reporting on the issue on a range of platforms. In 2015, Pari investigated child trafficking in Delhi’s red light area, GB Road, an exposé that was published in Rural Connect.

In 2017, she conducted an investigation into the disappearance of children from Baksa, Kokrajhar, and Chirang areas in Assam for Tehelka. Pari hopes to see a world free of any kind of slavery and exploitation, where human lives are valued more than their bodies.

A student of SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, Saikia went on to pursue her postgraduate diploma in English Journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi.

She has worked with Tehelka Magazine, the Pioneer Newspaper, Rural Connect magazine, the Statesman, and Energy Next magazine.

The Lorenzo Natali Media Prize Award

The Natali Prize, established 28 years ago, is awarded annually by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA), and named after Lorenzo Natali, to honour courage in journalism. 

Natali was a defender of freedom of expression, democracy, human rights and development and served three terms as one of Italy’s European Commissioners.

The Award distribution ceremony was followed by a vibrant online dialogue on the impact of the pandemic on the journalistic profession, its implications for the future of reporting, and the growing use of digital technologies for storytelling. 

Also read: Nagaland journalist wins prestigious Fetisov Journalism Award

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