“Tomorrow I shall die,
Tomorrow you shall die too,
Tomorrow they shall conduct innumerable protests,
Tomorrow they shall justify your or my death.”
As an ardent lover of poetry and an admirer of T.S. Eliot, I wrote these lines after the country lost Bangalore journalist Gauri Lankesh. Gauri, who was a staunch critic of the RSS, wrote in her last tweet, “Why do I feel that some of ‘us’ are fighting between ourselves? We all know our “biggest enemy”. Can we all please concentrate on that?” Her death hogged the headlines for many days, many organized innumerable protests, eminent journalists held a massive meeting at the Delhi Press Club, editorials were filled with “Journalism under dire threat in India, How many more voices to be muzzled?” A few days later, something else made news, something else hogged headlines, her murder was forgotten, primetime TV had new issues to fulminate over.
Just 15 days after Gauri’s murder, a TV journalist was murdered in Tripura while covering clashes between two groups, one of which is an ally of the BJP now in power in the state. Collective rage rose again, another journalist’s murder hit headlines again, though this time the tyranny of distance stepped in and the reports were far fewer. People tend to forget soon, especially in the news business, because what is news today may not be tomorrow.
Last evening, a day before Eid in the Valley, the festival that culminates the month-long fasting, a renowned Kashmiri journalist, who had worked extensively for The Hindu and Frontline magazine, was gunned down. Rising Kashmir Editor-in-Chief Shujaat Bukhari was on his way to break the Ramzan fast when 3 armed men shot him.
I grew up reading Bukhari’s pieces in Frontline magazine. His extensive writing on Kashmir, from the Kathua rape case to the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru, was couched in deep insight usually missing in the cut-and-end reports of the leading newspapers. In one on his pieces, tilted Mission without mandate published in 2018 by Frontline on the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as the interlocutor, he wrote, “Even after 70 years of Independence and that too after the people of Kashmir have starkly demonstrated what they want, New Delhi is struggling to see what the problem is. New Delhi has failed to understand Kashmir as a conflict that needs to be approached politically with the aim of finding a solution.” In the latter part of the essay, he pointed out, “In the past three years of National Democratic Alliance rule at the Centre, every effort has been made to make Kashmir look like a security problem that can be handled only by using military power.”
This takes us to the incessant turbulence in the Valley, which has witnessed bloodshed, mass disappearances, human rights violations in the past in the name of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act, which is not just traced by Bukhari, but also by Basharat Peer in his book Curfewed Night, Suvir Kaul’s Of Graves and Gardens, A.G. Noorani’s The Kashmir Question and Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry. Coming back to the latter part of Bukhari’s essay, which said despite 3 years of NDA rule at the Centre, reconciliation efforts made in the name of resolving disputes have only been handled by military power.
According to a report in The Indian Express, at least 2,524 people were injured by pellet guns in 8 of the 10 districts in Kashmir after the clampdown on protests following the killing of Burhan Wani in an encounter. Another report released by Amnesty International India titled, Losing Sight in Kashmir, The Impact of Pellet Guns stated 88 people sustained eye injuries by pellet guns between 2014 and 2017. According to the report, the pellet gun has turned into an instrument of torture against the people of Kashmir.
The so-called Ramzan ceasefire announced by the Centre is only a hoax as an analysis of Jammu and Kashmir Police data by IndiaSpend depicts that in the 3 years since March 2015, armed encounters between militants and security forces have increased by 53% and deaths in the conflict have similarly spiked by 51%. Sadly, these figures remind me of J&K Tourism Minister, and brother of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Tassaduq Mufti’s statement, “We were supposed to be partners in the rebuilding of this place but, sad to admit this, due to the non-fulfilling of commitments, we have ended up being partners in a crime that an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood.”
Amid this, Shujaat Bukhari was a strong man, his words not only inspired me but also made me inquisitive. His writing left a mark on me because of his humanistic approach and his simple ideas, which will not only be remembered but also adhered to by many novice journalists in Kashmir or in any other party of the country. Meanwhile, India can continue to be outraged by UN reports on the continued violation of human rights in Kashmir.
Bukhari will be all over the news for a few days, weeks or longer. His killing is already a hashtag for trend journalists to churn out copy on. Some TV channels might clamour and seek justice for his murder, others channels might call him an anti-national, Hindutva partisans might tweet horrendous things about him, a day after or perhaps a week after he will be forgotten too, like Gauri Lankesh, like Hindustan bureau chief Rajdev Ranjan, M. M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and many others.