The crisis of the Kashmir valley is one of the most complex issues persisting in independent India. In simple words, this story has two dimensions: one, an attempt to “solve” the Kashmir crisis by the barrel of the gun; and two, the bandwagon of peace talks and dialogue with the dissatisfied forces,who are deeply disturbed and distressed by the actions and policies of the government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India. Among those who saw dialogue as a source of hope,was the veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari.
Formerly, a known face of the newspaper The Hindu, he later moved to found his own English daily newspaper, Rising Kashmir. On June 14, the eve of Eid, Shujaat Bukhari, along with his two PSOs, was shot dead in the most secured part of Srinagar, the Press Enclave. Shujaat is easily the most prominent Kashmiri to be assassinated in the last decade. His assassination did not just send out a chilling message to the entire press fraternity, but it also deepened the moral crisis that the insurgency poses for the valley.
According to Free Press Kashmir, in the last 18 years, Kashmir has witnessed assassination of 19 journalists/media persons. Here’s the list:
- On February 19, 1990, Lassa Kaul, director of the government-owned Doordarshan television station, was shot dead by militants in Bemina area of Srinagar. The killing prompted the station’s closure for a three-year period.
- On March 1 1990,P N Handoo, Assistant Director of Information, was shot dead inside his office at Balgarden, Srinagar.
- On April, 23, 1991, murder of Al-Safa editor-in-chief Mohammad Shaban Wakil served to mute local journalists’ criticism of Kashmiri militants, who many suspect killed According to reports, some gun-wielding men entered Wakil’s office and fired at him indiscriminately.
- On September 29, 1992, a renowned calligrapher, Ali Mohammad Mahajan, working with Urdu newspapers Hamadard and the Daily Aftab, was killed by paramilitary forces along with his son, Aijaz.
- On October 16, 1992, Syed Ghulam Nabi, Joint Director Information, was kidnapped and held captive for four days. On October 20, his dead body found with torture marks.
- On October 3, 1993 slaying of Radio Kashmir newsreaderMohammad Shafi Bhat sparked a wave of resignations by his colleagues.
- On August 29, 1994, murder of freelance journalistGhulam Mohammed Lone, had a chilling effect on stringers working in outlying areas of the Kashmir Valley. He was killed by a group of masked gunmen who also fatally shot his seven-year-old son in their home in Kangan, Kashmir.
- On September 10, 1995, Mushtaq Ali, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Asian News International photographer, opened a package at an office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave. The “parcel exploded, severing Ali’s left hand, disfiguring his face and severely injuring his right hand and abdomen”. He died three days later.
- On April 10, 1996, Ghulam Rasool Sheikh, editor of the Urdu-language daily Rehnuma-e-Kashmir and the English-language weekly Saffron Times, was found dead floating in Kashmir’s Jhelum river. Family members alleged that Sheikh was abducted and then killed by a paramilitary group.
- On January 1, 1997 an anchor for the state-owned Doordarshan television station in Srinagar, Altaf Ahmed Faktoo, was shot dead by militants.
- On March 16, 1997 the same year a freelance journalistSaidan Shafi was shot dead along with his bodyguard in Srinagar. Shafi, a reporter for Doordarshan TV, the official Indian television network, for “Kashmir File,” a weekly news programme, and “Eyewitness”, a five-minute nightly news capsule, was fatally shot in an ambush by two gunmen in Srinagar.
- April 8, 1997, Tariq Ahmad, a private television producer was killed.
- On August 10, 2000 a grenade attack at Residency Road in Srinagar brought a hive of journalists to cover the spot. Moments later a car parked in a lane exploded in which a Hindustan Times photojournalist, Pradeep Bhatia, was killed.
- Parvaz Muhammad Sultan, editor of a local news agency, was killed by unidentified gunmen in 2003. Sultan was the editor of an independent news-wire service, News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), based in Srinagar, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman.
- Senior reporter of region’s information department Abdul Majid Bhat was killed in a blast in Doda town, in Jammu, on May 9, 2004.
- Another scribeAsiya Jeelani was killed in a landmine blast in Kupwara on April 20, 2004. Jeelani was a freelance journalist who contributed to local newspapers, and a human rights activist who worked with a human rights group, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). The blast also killed the driver of the vehicle.
- Ashok Sodhi, a photojournalist and then chief cameraman of Daily Excelsior, was killed on May 11, 2008 in Samba district of Jammu. Sodhi was caught in a crossfire close to India’s border with Pakistan.
- On August 13, 2008, Javed Ahmed Mir, 35, was shot dead while covering a demonstration near Bagh-e-Mehtab. According to the BBC, apart from being a cameraman, was also a textile worker, to help support his wife and three children. Reporters Without Borders urged the government to carry out a thorough investigation into the death of local TV cameraman.
- On June 14 2018, Rising Kashmir EditorShujaat Bukhari was shot and killed outside his office in the Press Avenue in Srinagar. Unknown gunmen fired a volley of bullets on his car. Bukhari was shot multiple times in his head and abdomen.
Shujaat Bukhari was always vocal but considered about the issues plaguing Kashmir and India| Pic source: Twitter
Between devil and the deep sea
Shujaat Bukhari was on the receiving end from all sides, whether it’s the government of India, the security forces, or militant organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen who are trying their best to influence the Kashmir narrative. In the context of the government’s stance on him, his efforts for dialogue did face continuous assaults, intimidation and censorship by the Government of India. Rising Kashmir was suspended on a number of occasions in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2017. He was indirectly tagged as an “anti-national” for stating real facts on the ground.
In a letter to the J&K state government, the Union Home Ministry from Delhi directed:“It is understood that some newspapers in J&K are publishing highly radicalised content, glamorising terrorists and anti-national elements.” Whereas the reality was just the opposite. In fact, newspapers like Rising Kashmir, like many others in the national media, gave coverage to the funeral processions of slain militants, because they galvanised the entire Valley, bringing out pain and aguish of Kashmiris, young and old, alike. Those iconic moments were historic, but New Delhi came down hard on three local newspapers of Jammu and Kashmir, including Rising Kashmir. Shujaat Bukhari’s response the Hindustan Times was clear: “Three major papers of Kashmir, which include Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir and Kashmir Times, have been banned from getting any central government advertisements from the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) for the last eight years. We are already bleeding and now they want us to bleed more by telling the state government to stop state advertisements as well.”
Whereas on the other hand, as part of the peace-building work between India and Pakistan, steps taken by Bukhari did not go well for fundamentalist organisations. As part of Conciliation Resources, he attended a Track 2 conference in Dubai whose aim was “end to militancy”. This drew sharp criticism from Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahudin.
Rejecting both extremes
In as simple terms as it can be put, he was painted an “anti-national”“Islamic fundamentalist” on one hand, and an Indian agent on the other. Bukhari did not buy either of the extreme stands on Kashmir. Rather he stood as a bridge between the militants and the government. He had a vision to end the collective apathy which can be traced to one of his statements he gave recently at a book launch, in answer to the former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s comment that“the post 1990s generation of Kashmiris do not love India, that an entire generation is growing up hating India”.Bukhari replied he had “immense hope in dialogue making process”. To have a political solution for Kashmir proved his far-sightedness. He publicly welcomed government of India’s cease-fire over Ramzan, which ended soon after Bukhari’s assassination.
Motive behind killing Bukhari
The journalist gunned down on June 14 was not a radical militant or a potential threat to anyone, and his pen had strength to demand and work towards a solution for Kashmiris, through peace and reconciliation. The balanced and rational stand of ShujaatBukhari, criticising both the military’s use of force resulting in death of civilians as well as the violence unleashed by Islamic terror forces, clearly opted the middle path, rejecting any black and white binaries.
The motive behind silencing of a voice like him remains crystal clear: Kashmir won’t be allowed to come out of this terrain of violence and disruption of daily life through any dialogue. And in case the proponents of peace start having an impact, the answer will be a hail of bullets. But it is precisely what Bukhari stood for, peace and reconciliation and an end to the bloodbath, that needs to be conserved, especially after his brutal death. Those responsible for his assassination must be defeated by the strength of Bukhari’s ideals and ideas.
The lofty vision of Shujaat Bukhari is the deserving answer to end the agony of Kashmir. Those who advocated dialogue in Kashmir have become the prime targets of not just the terror groups but also government agencies, for working tirelessly and documenting the complex reality of Kashmir, echoed in the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights report on Kashmir, released hours before his murder.
In words of Shujaat Bukhari: “We have done journalism with pride and will continue to highlight what happens on the ground.” It’s time the press fraternity and all those who share Bukhari’s compassionate view of a conundrum, heed his advice.