Her baby cradled in her arms, Muskan recalls the winter night when she was duped into traveling more than 2,000 miles to be married to a man 30 years older than her.
So begins a VICE World News investigative report on desperate Rohingya women sold to men in Kashmir as brides. South Asia editor Danish Raza managed the project for VICE.
Raza worked at the Minneapolis Star Tribune during his Alfred Friendly fellowship in 2019, and he started contributing to VICE World News soon after his return to India.
Back in August, Raza was promoted to South Asia Editor for VICE World News and now leads a team of reporters and freelancers in the region while also reporting his own stories.
Raza reported in December about child kidnapping in Afghanistan, and about Rohingya refugees who were moved from Bangladesh to a remote island against their will.
One of the region’s freelancers is Pari Saikia, who focuses on human rights. During a human trafficking journalism fellowship funded by Impulse NGO Network, Rohingya women told Saikia their harrowing stories of being sold to men in Kashmir. After her reporting trips, Saika looked for a platform to host the article and pitched the story to Raza.
To get it published, Raza said, “took me multiple rounds of edits, brainstorming with the design team and thorough fact checking.”
The result of the nine-month project: Rohingya Brides Thought They Were Fleeing Violence. Then They Met Their Grooms.
VICE World News traces the trafficking horrors to the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdowns on Rohingya Muslims. In 2017, the military forced over 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the Buddhist-majority country by crossing the Naf river into Bangladesh. The refugee crisis fueled a market for the trafficking of brides outside the country.
A social worker told VICE that Kashmiri families pay the equivalent of about $680 to $1,370 for a Rohingya bride, an amount much less than the minimum expenses for a Kashmiri wedding, around $6,831.
“More people find it economical to buy a bride than organize a wedding,” he said.
The VICE World News report had more than 50,000 views in Asia in the first few weeks after publication and robust social media engagement.
Raza was a reporter for the Hindustan Times in New Delhi before his fellowship, funded by the Patrick and Janna Stueve Foundation. His quick promotion to a digital news outlet with worldwide impact is not uncommon. A 2019 classmate from China, Yan Zhang, was recently hired by Radio Free Asia; among the 2015 fellows, Saher Baloch from Pakistan and Saw Yan Naing from Myanmar were hired by BBC World News, joining 2017 fellow Benita Dahal from Nepal, and David Herbling from Kenya was hired by Bloomberg News, joining five other alums working for the global service. Rodney Muhumuza from neighboring Uganda now covers East Africa for The Associated Press, which now has five former fellows on its news staff.
“The fellowship left me much more confident both as a person and a professional,” Raza said. “My experience at the host newsroom helped me understand the contours of writing about people on the margins.”