By Imtiaz Gul
Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari is no more. But he has left behind countless stories as he lived a life of courage and valour – true to the meaning of his first name – despite all the oddities of life in Srinagar, a city that has been under siege for decades.
I can’t stop thinking of him and his family having dinner at an Islamabad restaurant in December last year, when Shujaat was on a tour of Lahore, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad to see his extended family.
As the Editor of daily Rising Kashmir, Shujaat not only took pride in pursing professional journalism but he also remained a clear-headed opinion multiplier as he frequently traveled abroad, and probably topped the list of those who would be a potential source of discomfort for the Indian government. In a Twitter post a few days ago, Shujaat had said, “In #Kashmir we have done Journalism with pride and will continue to highlight what happens on ground.”
Friends at home and abroad helped him in developing the newspaper, but suspicions and accusations around sources of funding for the paper always accompanied him. He also got labeled as ‘pro-Indian military’ for his nearly 22-year-old acquaintance with General Husnain, a former commanding officer in Kashmir. This amounted to the most ludicrous allegation for a person who grew up in profession in extremely hostile socio-political conditions, went on to embrace journalism as a source of livelihood, and made a name for him through sheer hardwork and thorough professionalism.
Little do the finger-pointers realise that maintaining contacts with military, militants, and even criminals, is a requirement of the profession. “Using such associations to brand a professional like Shujjat is extremely unfortunate and totally uncalled for,” said Dr. Nazir Gillani, in his reaction to the brutal murder of the journalist.
Many in India, it seems, disliked Shujaat’s pro-active role in disseminating to the rest of the world facts of life in Sringar, including his role in the first-ever 49-page UN Report on Kashmir by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Shujaat had vigorously defended his work on Twitter, when some Delhi-based journalists accused him of doing ‘biased’ reportage on Kashmir. One of his last tweets was about the UN report on human rights violations in the Valley. It read: “First-ever @UNHumanRights report on #Kashmir calls for #international inquiry into multiple violations.”
Coincidentally, the idea of ‘remote monitoring’, that became the basis of the UN Human Rights report, sprang from a meeting between a six-member delegation led by Syed Nazir Gilani, the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Council on Human Rights, and the UN Commissioner on Human Rights at Geneva in September 2016.
Remote monitoring, Gilani said, was the only way to monitor and document the state of human rights, particularly since the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in July 2016.
Another great quality of Shujaat was that he never held back facts. In one of his articles early this year, which he contributed for the Pakistani weekly The Friday Times, he quoted the J&K Coalition of Civil Society’s annual report to illustrate the state of human rights in Kashmir: 450 people (124 from the armed forces, 217 militants, 108 civilians, and one Ikhwani or pro-government militant) were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in 2017. This was a year with the highest number of killings in recent times, Shujaat wrote, adding that it was just another bloody Sunday in Kashmir on May 6 when 10 young Kashmiris, five of them militants, were killed and added to a long list that had become a new normal given the violent turn of events. He wrote further: “It was like a replay of April 1, when 17 people were killed in a single day. Sunday’s killings serve as a grim reminder about the highly charged situation in the Valley. A day earlier, eight people were killed mercilessly, some of them by unknown gunmen as no one took responsibility.”
As family and friends mourn and wail his loss, one wonders who could be responsible for the gruesome act? And why? Did the first-ever UN report on human rights in Kashmir become the primary motivation to get rid of Shujaat through militants linked to the Ikhwans? – This, according to most Kashmiri observers, is a government-sponsored counter-insurgent group. The Ikhwans are known for targeted killings of all those considered detrimental to Indian interests in the embattled state.
“Yes it’s a tragedy beyond words. Hope the killers are found. Truth is at gunpoint,” wrote the veteran Hindustan Times journalist Vinod Sharma in one his reaction tweets.
The crude matter of fact is: humanity has been on the receiving end since Wani’s execution nearly two years ago. The issue of young and old blinded and bruised by pellets ever since has hardly raised eyebrows in capitals that matter for global politics. Nor did the UN Security Council take up this pressing issue. As the unrest in Srinagar, and its surroundings devours Kashmiri sons like Shujaat Bukhari, geo-politics, it is obvious, trumps human rights in the held Valley, with no end to atrocities.
Published in Daily Times, June 16th 2018.