In one of his last tweets before he was brutally shot dead, Shujaat Bukhari wrote,” In Kashmir, we have done journalism with pride, and will continue to highlight what happens on the ground.” This was Shujaat, exasperated with the increasingly polarised discourse in the country which seeks to label all of us, and more so, journalists from Kashmir. Shujaat was hard to label. Because he was a moderate voice from the Valley. In today’s reductionist terms, that means he was a “jihadi” for the extreme right wing, which is now a ‘compliment’ for anyone who advocates peace and dialogue. And that is exactly the reason why the other side thought he had “sold out” to India.
The fact is, Shujaat always stood for dialogue and peace. He was very active on the “Track 2” circuit between India and Pakistan. And within India, he regularly organised and attended seminars and conferences on Kashmir, which included sessions on bridging the divide between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. Over the last few years, he appeared regularly on our TV shows. We didn’t always agree, but he was polite and put across his point of view firmly but respectfully.
He would make it a point to always tell me how some other TV channels had poisoned the discourse in Kashmir with their hate-driven agenda night after night. Those sections of the media have done so much harm, essentially in labelling all Kashmiris as stone-pelters and terrorists, calling anyone who wants peace a “lobbyist” and “Pakistan apologist”. They haven’t even spared Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti from these labels, she who is a democratically-elected Chief Minister no less.
Which is why I tweeted last night that armchair patriots really don’t understand what journalists in Kashmir go through, the kind of pressure they face in their reporting day after day. My colleague Zaffar Iqbal was shot by terrorists and miraculously survived. I know it takes immense courage for him to report from the Valley; for years, he didn’t have the strength to go back to live there. Both he and NDTV’s Nazir Masoodi have always been fair, objective and courageous in their reporting, along with many other journalists in the Valley. Today, I want to thank them for what they do.
Shujaat had welcomed the recent ceasefire announced by the centre in the Valley, a ceasefire that terrorist groups and their supporters have been seeking to destroy from the very moment it was put into place. His killing reminds me of the assassination of separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002, who was murdered for talking about peace. I have no doubt that Shujaat has been killed by the same forces. The onus is on us to make sure those forces are eventually defeated. RIP Shujaat.