The Murder of Shujaat Bukhari Signals Peril for Free Press

Murder of Shujaat Bukhari Throws Free Press to Darkness in Kashmir


Rising Kashmir editor-in-chief and a journalist of repute, Syed Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead outside his office in Press Enclave area of Srinagar by three motorcycle-borne assailants on 14 June 2018. Two policemen, who were assigned as his PSOs, were also shot and succumbed to their injuries, according to the DG of Jammu and Kashmir Police, SP Vaid. It was minutes before the Iftar, around 7:00 pm, amidst the chaos over when Eid-ul-Fitr will take place and when people were rushing home to break their fast that Shujaat Bukhari, who came down from his office to board his car, was shot. The assailants fired three bullets targeting Bukhari and he died on the spot. It was so sudden an act, that the security personnel were taken by surprise and before the duo, Mumtaz Awan and Hamid Chaudhary could retaliate, they were shot by the assailants.

It’s a shock for many in the valley that a balanced, neutral and straightforward journalist was killed in this manner, even when he had been provided security by the Indian establishment since 2000. The assassination of Shujaat Bukhari shook the conscience of the journalist fraternity of the valley and beyond; while the mainstream politicians of the Indian establishment and the Kashmiri separatist leaders condemned the act of mindless violence, many right-wingers and Hindutva fascists in India, cheered the killing by calling it a price that Bukhari had to pay for criticising the Army and its role in Kashmir.

There are accusations and counter-accusations doing the rounds in Srinagar and the entire valley. The Indian state machinery and the RSS-affiliated pro-military organisations didn’t waste time and accused the Kashmiri militants of killing Bukhari as soon as the news of the murder spread. The usual vitriol on the social-media flew with the Hindutva hate mongers spitting the venom against the slain editor and his pro-Kashmir stance. It was said that Shujaat Bukhari became a victim because he rode the tiger that he couldn’t control; slurs were incessantly hurled at him due to his critical analysis of the situation prevailing in Kashmir.

The rabid Hindutva loose cannons, who are on the payroll of the RSS, like Ashoke Pandit, Aarti Tikoo, Madhu Kishwar, etc. and the corporate-controlled toady media of the Hindutva enterprise, started hurling abuses at the Kashmiri people’s resistance struggle against the Indian occupation, accusing the Azadi-camp of orchestrating the murder of Shujaat Bukhari. It took them no substantial evidence and no clue to start accusing the Kashmiri freedom movement because the entire accusation exercise was driven by sheer Islamophobia and hatred towards Kashmiri people.

Amidst this hullabaloo over his murder, genuine questions are raised by the Kashmiri people, the members of the resistance and even by those who sympathise with the Kashmiri militants, on the real causes that could have triggered Shujaat Bukhari’s murder. What would the Kashmiri militants gain by killing a Kashmiri journalist who had been very vocal against Indian state’s repressive measures? What would the Kashmiri separatists gain by killing a man who was not in antagonism with them but was seeking a peaceful way to resolve the Kashmir issue, which has worsened in the last seven decades? Why would militants and Kashmiri separatists kill a man who was involved in a track-II diplomacy with Pakistan and Indian regime for years to find a way to end the Kashmir impasse?

While these questions loom large, we need to see that which camp was a more vocal opponent of Shujaat Bukhari’s work? Who despised him more and whom did he criticise more? In that case, we will see that Rising Kashmir is one of the brave media houses of the valley that faced press censorship officially in 2016 for its brave reporting on the people’s movement against the Indian occupation, which saw a major outburst after Eid-ul-Fitr of 2016, when the popular young militant leader Burhan Wani was gunned down by the Indian armed forces. 

Rising Kashmir faced attack from the Modi regime and its stooge, the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDPBJP government, and none of the Indian mainstream media outlets criticised the fascist action of the Modi regime against the free press. Despite the ban and censorship, Rising Kashmir didn’t capitulate and Shujaat Bukhari carried on his critical analysis like before. Rising Kashmir under Shujaat Bukhari continued to report the reality, from the grassroots of Kashmir, better than the corporate-controlled Indian mainstream toady media, which is spreading canards against the Kashmiri people since time immemorial.

The blame on the militants by the Indian establishment and the Hindutva fascist camp seems founded on their prejudices, despite the fact that the far-right Islamist fascist militant organisation Lashkar e-Taiba was the first organisation to condemn the killing and no other organisations, like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the largest pro-freedom militant organisation in the valley, claimed the responsibility of this crime. Motorcycle-borne assailants, swift firing and fleeing from the spot, in downtown Srinagar, it all points to the very pattern that was once used by the R&AW operatives in the early 1990s to silence pro-freedom non-militant personalities.

At 2:30 pm on 14 June, Shujaat Bukhari tweeted about the first ever UN report on gross human rights violation by the Indian occupation regime in the valley, which would surely become a thorn in the eyes of the Indian establishment in the days to come. The report speaks of how the Indian state machinery has justified violence in suppressing people’s genuine aspiration for self-determination, which New Delhi calls a law and order issue in its territory. The UN observation may not hasten the end of the occupation, however, it has the potential to fan people’s resentment against the fascist-martial rule. Plus, the report will further help the Kashmiri activists to expose Indian lies and slanders on Kashmir at all international forums and create a wave of sympathy for the cause of the Kashmiri people throughout the world.

When Shujaat Bukhari tweeted about this gross violation of human rights in the valley by the Indian occupation regime, then he suddenly must have shown that the journalist within him may go ahead and drill more content out of the issue and this could have caused further annoyance to the Indian regime. This makes him a scorn to the Modi regime or its puppet Mehbooba Mufti regime. Otherwise, if fringe militants or hired assassins would’ve done the killing, they couldn’t have been so perfect at a time when the posh downtown location of Srinagar is strongly fortified as a military bastion and there are stop and checks every here and there for the Kashmiri people.

Three assailants can’t easily flee in a motorcycle in Srinagar or anywhere in South Kashmir, as they can in any other city. Even the militants won’t kill their staunch enemies in Srinagar due to the risks involved and the almost impossibility of skipping the checks at numerous posts. Even if they had escaped the checkings while coming, they couldn’t have fled after shooting Shujaat Bukhari and two Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel with such ease. The paramilitary and military personnel would have gunned them down soon if they were not sent by them who controls the armed forces in the valley.

Due to the negative possibilities of Kashmiri or Pakistan-supported militants killing Shujaat Bukhari, who was involved with Pakistan in back-channel negotiations for peace talks, the needle of suspicion normally points to the Indian establishment with the PDP-BJP regime in the state acting as its lackey. It must be noted that the Kashmiri militants seldom attacked journalists, that too any indigenous journalist, and it’s unlikely that in the month of Ramzan, during the Iftar time, the militants would attack someone who has always voiced his opinion in favour of peace.

The killing of Shujaat Bukhari is going to help the Indian regime, as there are very few staunchly critical and widely accepted journalists left in the Kashmir valley after him. The critical analysis of the UN report by Shujaat Bukhari and Rising Kashmir’s practice of maintaining the ethics of upright journalism may have caused the Indian occupation regime and its hawks a lot of inconveniences. Now that Shujaat Bukhari is dead, the public attention in the valley can be diverted by the Indian regime towards his murder, by blaming it on Kashmiri militants, while the Indian regime will push the UN report on human rights violation into the back burner.  

It cannot be asserted right now that the Indian regime has orchestrated the gruesome murder of Shujaat Bukhari and it’s naive to lay the blame on the militant groups fighting for freedom of Kashmir or Pakistani annexation for the murder. However, there is no possibility of an independent investigation of Shujaat Bukhari’s murder under the present rulers and the real culprits may remain aloof from law forever. However, it doesn’t absolve those who have killed him but it will give his successors in the valley, the young journalists who are brave to dare the Indian occupation regime and the self-aggrandising “mainstream” separatists, an inspiration to investigate the crime and trace out the real culprits who had Shujaat Bukhari silenced.

The murder of Shujaat Bukhari doesn’t only adds another name to the ever-growing list of people killed in the three-decade-long conflict in Kashmir, rather it’s also an attack on the idea of the free press or, what can be called, the last vestige of Kashmiri critical press. The journalists of the world, who stand by the ethics of the profession and dare to hold high the banner of the free press, must vehemently condemn this murder and question the Indian regime for its complicity in this crime and several thousand other heinous crimes committed against humanity in the Kashmir valley since the late 1980s. Shujaat Bukhari’s death can’t just be forgotten but must awaken our Kashmiri spirit every day and night.

Bashir Dar writes extensively on Kashmir. Bashir Dar is the Kashmiri storyteller whose work is regularly published to add a Kashmiri perspective to the stories.

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