Shujaat, You Should Have Been More Careful: A Friend’s Lament

“Arey kuch nahi hoga…I am used to it,” Shujaat Bukhari would laugh and say.

4 min read
Happymon Jacob recalls his friend Shujaat Bukhari, an equal opportunity offender. 

(This piece was original published on 15 June 2018, and has been republished to mark the death anniversary of Shujaat Bukhari)

“Happy, let’s go get some dinner and talk about your recent visit to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control”, he said when we met on the evening of 23 May at the launch of the book by former RAW chief A S Dulat and former ISI chief Asad Durrani, The Spy Chronicles. I couldn’t give him company as I had to be elsewhere. And now I will have his gregarious company no more.

Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir, was shot dead on Thursday evening just outside his office at the Press Enclave in Srinagar on his way to an iftar party. We do not yet know who ordered the shooting. Make no mistake, those who did issue the orders are not interested in peace or reconciliation.

Met Shujaat’s Ideas Before Him

I first knew Shujaat through his writings in The Hindu (and the Frontline) of which he was the Srinagar correspondent from 1997 to 2012. Shujaat’s writings first introduced me to the complex web of the Kashmir conflict when I was a school teacher in J&K during 1997-1998. It was in 2004 that I first met Shujaat in Jammu during a conference, when I was teaching at the University of Jammu. By then I had a clearer understanding of the Kashmir issue and we promptly took to a liking to each other’s views.

He has since been both a friend and my expert guide on all things Kashmir. I have been traveling to Kashmir frequently ever since. I made it a point to call on him every time I was in Srinagar. He would happily share his views, data, and contacts, without any reservation, along with cups of hot kahwa. A few days ago, I sent him a message on Whatsapp: “I need a picture of the LoC for my upcoming book. Please ask your photographer to send me one.” “Consider it done,” prompt came the response.

No Ordinary Journalist

He was a man of peaceful convictions, sound logic, deep insights and warm demeanor. “Professor Sahib, I know who your favourite Kashmiri politician these days is”, he would pull my leg, reading my weekly columns in the ‘rival’ Kashmiri newspaper, Greater Kashmir.

Shujaat was the tallest Kashmiri journalist I know. He was no ordinary journalist, and journalism was not just a job for him. But then he took it too seriously, and it finally cost him his life. He was outspoken and courageous and had the guts to call a spade a spade, mincing no words.

At the launch of Dulat’s book, in a room full of journalists, analysts and spooks, he was the only one with the courage to tell the senior politicians and former officials (Manmohan Singh, Farooq Abdullah, Shiv Shankar Menon, among others) sitting on the stage: “You all make the right noises when in opposition, but why is it that you don’t do the right thing when in power?”

He wasn’t offensive, and the sharpness of the message was not lost out in the smile on his face.

Equal Opportunity Offender

Shujaat was an ‘equal opportunity offender’. He spoke up when Indian forces killed protesters in Kashmir and when Pakistan-backed terrorists gunned down Kashmiris. He was critical of the Mehbooba Mufti government in J&K despite the fact that his own brother is a member of the Mufti cabinet. He was a frequent visitor to Pakistan which did not stop him from criticizing Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. He was not a separatist but spoke up for what is constitutionally promised to Kashmir – the preservation of Article 370.

“There is no point in sending interlocutors to Kashmir to convince Kashmiris to make peace with India. We’ve had enough of that. Kashmiris know what New Delhi wants. It’s time we brought Kashmiris to India so that Indians know what is wrong with New Delhi’s policy towards Kashmir and what Kashmiris want. It’s time for Kashmiris to speak and Indians to listen,” he would often say.

Lately, he was involved with doing precisely that – bringing Kashmiris to cities like New Delhi and Mumbai so that Indians have a nuanced view of Kashmir, and get a chance to listen to Kashmiris. At a time when our nationalist TV channels declare Kashmiris to be anti-national and pro-Pakistan, Shujaat was a voice of reason and moderation.

Perils of Being a Journalist in Kashmir

Those who work and live in the rest of India do not fully appreciate the difficulty of being a journalist based in Kashmir, or even being a Kashmiri, for that matter. Taking neutral positions on Kashmir is one of the toughest jobs today and being a Kashmiri Muslim has almost become akin to being an anti-national.

That didn’t dissuade Shujaat – he had the guts to speak the truth and question the powerful. And, unfortunately, had to pay for it with his life.

I would often read Rising Kashmir and ring him up “Bhai, be careful”. He would laugh loudly and say “Areey kuch nahi hoga…I am used to it”. You should have been more careful Shujaat!

Rest in Peace, my friend.

(Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor of Disarmament Studies at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He tweets @HappymonJacob. The views expressed are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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