Shujaat Bukhari was an accomplished journalist with exceptional clarity on varied issues.
Shujaat Bukhari, a veteran journalist, a peacenik and a civil liberty champion, has been killed in a brutal terrorist attack. His death — tragic and untimely — has shocked countrymen and leaders of all the political parties have condemned it in strong words. All termed it a cowardly and dastardly act.
Shujaat used to advocate that terrorism and violence ought to be fought by hot pursuit but such policy requires to be blended with engagement and dialogue with common Kashmiris and that people alone are key to marginalising and isolating terror elements. The conflict in Kashmir is non-linear and there are multiple forces at work simultaneously.
He passionately believed and always said there is a dire need for reconstruction of society, tracing the roots of enlightened values of Kashmiriyat and upholding religious tolerance in Kashmir. Don’t appease but reconcile; don’t suppress anger but convert it into energy to involve in reconstruction of the state, create space for debate, dissent, societal transformation and mutual tolerance.
Shujaat was an accomplished journalist with exceptional clarity on varied issues.
The editorial policy and narrative of his daily newspaper Rising Kashmir were always pluralist, moderate and positive. He was facing perpetual economic crunch for running the daily newspaper as he hardly received his legitimate due, by way of any advertisement benefits, from the governments, unlike their favourite ones. He was a flag-bearer of peace and dialogue for Kashmir resolution. He was an active participant in back channel diplomatic efforts of Ottawa dialogue group and Pugwash group for India-Pakistan friendship and peace in South Asia and Kashmir. He had the best connectivity with the Kashmiri diaspora active abroad for resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio.
He contributed a great deal in the cultural and literary field as president of Adbee Markaz Kamraz, a cultural and literary organisation in Kashmir. He was instrumental in organising several Kashmir peace conferences and media conclaves.
As a journalist of Kashmir, working for The Hindu, I knew Shujaat for more than two and a half decades. He once interviewed me on what turned out to be my path-breaking meetings with united Hurriyat Conference leadership in Kashmir long back as convenor of Kashmir Committee. He widely reported it in The Hindu and, thereafter, we became good friends.
I believe he has been targeted for being a rare voice of moderation and reason in a public discourse plagued by ideological extremes. He used to tell everybody boldly that things are much worse in Kashmir than they were in 1990. An entire generation is growing up hating India. Equally, he did not pander blindly to the azaadi slogan. He condemned militant violence and concerted bids to kill locals and policemen by terrorist groups. He always favoured dignified and secured return of native Kashmiri Pandits back to Valley. He publicly welcomed the Ramzan ceasefire and remained an optimist about the power of dialogue and reconciliation.
Shujaat, a man of deep culture and a proud Kashmiri, had done his Masters in Journalism from Ateneo de Manila University as a fellow of the Asian Centre for Journalism and was a recipient of the World Press Institute fellowship. He was also a fellow of the East–West Center, Hawaii.
His killing has been officially called an act of terrorism by the government. It occurred on the same day when Aurangzeb, a soldier on the way home for Id, was killed in South Kashmir by militants. But if these developments signal the clear and present dangers in Kashmir, they also remind us that if the government doesn’t engage with stakeholders and balanced moderate Kashmiri voices like Shujaat Bukhari, soon there will be no one but the terrorists and fundamentalists left to talk to.
I am personally grateful to Shujaat for the fact he was instrumental in awakening my columnist faculties by pestering me to write my views on varied affairs.
I have been contributing my pieces to his daily newspaper and on the day of his murder a book review piece written by me had appeared in it. Thank you, Shujaat. Frankly, I could not sleep the night after Shujaat’s brutal murder. He was hardly 50. He did not deserve to die. He had survived several attempts on his life in the past.
The skies opened up as thousands of friends and admirers joined the funeral procession of the veteran journalist who was laid to rest in his ancestral village in Baramulla a day after he was shot dead outside his office in Srinagar.
Braving heavy rain, crowds of tearful mourners from across the Valley followed the cortege through the streets of his native village Kreeri. That tells us who he was and how he was loved by many, if hated by a few. PEACE BE TO HIS SOUL.
Ashok Bhan is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and chairman, Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.