The killing of Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief Shujaat Bukhari has sent shock waves not only across the Kashmir Valley, but all over the globe. The manner in which Shujaat was killed was the most brutal in recent times (at the very least). However, he died in the line of duty. Even at the time of his killing, he had copies of two national newspapers (The Indian Express and Hindustan Times) with him. Given his stature and the international exposure, his killing is not only a loss to the field of journalism, but to the world of activism as well. He was blunt and vocal against human rights violations and had pleaded in India and abroad that Kashmir be dealt with as a political issue.
Preacher of peace
He was a man of principles and integrity. He also was a warmhearted person who had a unique attitude as far as making friends and maintaining relationships went. Shujaat was a vocal vanguard of peace and denounced any kind of violence in the strongest terms. He wanted a peaceful Kashmir and worked hard for peace to prevail in the state. However, every possible hurdle was thrown into his path of peace. Unfortunately, the word "peace" has become outlawed in this disputed region. Almost every household in Kashmir is in mourning the passing of Shujaat.
Shujaat was an avid consumer of social media. He had 52,300-plus followers on his official Twitter handle and had 4,005 friends on his official Facebook account. However, there was a sustained social media campaign launched against him in the past few months, engineered to malign his image. Only last week, I had showed him some screenshots of venomous social media posts that were aimed at him. He simply smiled and said, "Leave it, son. I saw them already." He was an easy-going man and never took things seriously.
He was journalism school. I never saw him discourage any of the reporters or sub-editors at our office. All news was welcome in our newsroom. He would duly recognise all the reports from the reporters whenever they created a storm in the state. He would tag the reporters or editors on his Facebook or Twitter to fully boost and support his staff and openly say that he was there for us, standing tall behind us, come what may. Whenever any of the news created a controversy, he would take on the authority figure and defend his reporters and editors. He would never leave us to fend four ourselves.
I joined Rising Kashmir in 2013. I was a cub journalist back then. I had recently been promoted to the role of online editor. It was an altogether different world for me. I had uploaded some news from one of the agencies against one of the teachers' forums. Within no time, some members of the forum came running to our office and began smashing whatever they could lay their hands on and searched for me. I was numb and apologised to Shujaat for the rest of the day. Once he left work for the day, I messaged him again on WhatsApp apologising for whatever had happened back in the office. He simply replied, "Don't worry. It's ok. It was part of your job. Take it easy." It was only due to his positive response that I calmed down a bit and resumed my normal work. Such was the stature of the man.
This story was one side of him as a journalist. Let's take a closer look at the other side. There was hardly any visiting journalist either from within or outside India who did not come to Shujaat for help. Whenever there was any emergency on the ground vis-à-vis Kashmir, it was Shujaat's door on which the journalist would knock. He was always ready to help, no matter what the circumstances. Most of the journalists presently working in Kashmir have been associated with Rising Kashmir at one point or another in their careers. And most of them are not part of national or international media outlets.
Shujaat would always tell me, "Rising Kashmir is a launchpad or platform for many of Kashmir's journalists." The day he was killed, many of my colleagues shared their experiences about their time at Rising Kashmir and with Shujaat, fondly recalling their memories.
During editorial meetings, he would highlight numerous aspects to cover in order to file a good story. He was very particular about spelling. Even if the entire plot of the story was wrong, the names mentioned in the story would be thoroughly checked by the editor. He would never scold any reporter about the thread and plot of the story, but would be angry if any of the names were misspelt. He was an editor par excellence.
During the devastating flood of 2014 in the Kashmir Valley that claimed nearly 300 lives, Shujaat was among the first to jump into the rescue and rehabilitation wagon. I also had the privilege of being a member of Shujaat's rescue-and-rehabilitation team. He carried cartons of medicines on his shoulders for nearly two kilometres in seven to eight-feet-deep water. He rescued families both local and non-local. He preferred to cater to the needs of the non-locals over the locals, saying that non-locals are our guests and need our immediate attention. His wife, who is a medical practitioner by profession, devoted all her time to looking after disease-stricken people from many areas in and around Srinagar. He also made sure that he constructed homes for those whose homes had been completely damaged by the devastating floods. He laid the foundation stone for at least three to five houses in the interiors of Srinagar city.
Love for Kashmiri language
Shujaat had an unbinding love for the Kashmiri language. To preserve and uplift the language he started the state's first Kashmiri newspaper in 2006 and named it Sangarmal. It started as a weekly. However, despite limited resources, in around four years, he turned it into a daily eight-page paper with colour pages as well. He would often say that the "Kashmiri language is my mission". Sangarmal has created its own space among the readers in the Valley. Many copies of Sangarmal also go to Jammu and New Delhi. Shujaat's work for the promotion of the language is a tribute to the people of the state.
Shujaat was also president of a 50-year-old institution for almost five years. The institution goes by the name Adbee Markaz Kamraz. The organisation has been working for the upliftment and preservation of the Kashmiri language for the past many decades. It was during his tenure as president that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to make the Kashmiri language compulsory for students of Class 9 and 10 in the state. It was only due to Shujaat's efforts that the government took such a step.
What comes next
With the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government gone, it remains to be seen whether the investigation into the killing will be taken to its logical conclusion or not. It could be said that the killing was done with an aim to silence and censor journalism in Kashmir. The perennially-jinxed Kashmir has once again been robbed of a gem. May Shujaat's soul rest in peace!
The author is oped/online editor of Rising Kashmir. He is also a regular contributor at The Quint, sbcltr, Youth Ki Aawaz, Hindustan Times, Daily O and The Wire
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 09:21 AM