Shujaat Bukhari murder highlights journalistic dangers and law and order of the region

Last Updated: Sat, Jun 16, 2018 22:21 hrs
Senior journalist Shujat Bukhari shot dead in Srinagar

The Kashmir police on Friday released photos of who they believe to be responsible for the death of journalist Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar which took place on Thursday evening. The editor of Rising Kashmir was shot dead along with a security officer near his office in an area where many newspaper offices are located called Srinagar's Press Colony.

The death has garnered widespread outrage among journalists and politicians from all stripes condemning the murder.

The newspaper which celebrated its 10 anniversary in March, hit the stands on Friday with a photograph of the late editor as its cover with a message of defiance which stated in part, "We won't be cowed down by the cowards who snatched you from us".

Bukhari was considered one of the best journalists in the valley; an expert on the region and its complex geo politics. With three decades of experience, the 50 year old became the editor of the English daily Rising Kashmir when it launched in 2008. His distinguished career began in the early 90s as a reporter with the Jammu-based English daily Kashmir Times.

In 1997, he got a big break becoming the Srinagar bureau chief for The Hindu. During his 15 year tenure at the Hindu, he covered the ups and downs of the state and region; peace talks, cease fires and wars. His coverage garnered attention and were featured in the BBC and Frontline. In 2006 he was abducted by gunmen but he managed to escape. Following this, he was given private security by the government.

Reporting from the region can be dangerous. There have been other journalists who have been killed on the job; which was them reporting from an unstable and complicated region and trying to make sense of it for the rest of the country. Bukhari was no different. In a 2016 column for the BBC, he wrote on his newspaper being shut down amid violence in the region –

"... When I called the office, one of our employees confirmed that that our printing press had been raided, staff held and printed copies of the newspaper seized. I was not surprised. Authorities had forced us to suspend publication during the protests against Indian rule in 2008 and 2010 as well".

He wrote of the risks that the media had to take and working in the region, he described it as a razors edge; working in one of the world's most heavily militarised zone.

"Thirteen journalists have been killed during the conflict since 1990. Threats to life, intimidation, assault, arrest and censorship have been part of the life of a typical local journalist".

His death was not the first death in the press colony. In 2003, Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, editor of a local news agency NAFA was shot dead in his office there. Before that, in 1995, Mushtaq Ali, a cameraman was killed when a parcel bomb went off; one that was intended for a former BBC journalist who escaped with injuries.

The murder brings forth the two important points, as Barkha Dutt points out in her column for the Washington Post – the security and political situation in Kashmir is dire and the dangers of being a journalist in the region and in the country in general.

"He publicly welcomed the cease-fire and remained an optimist about the power of dialogue and reconciliation. And he interacted regularly with affection and regard with several military generals".

"His killing reinforces the fact that whether in Kashmir or the rest of India, the journalists who are the most vulnerable today are the ones who have rejected ideological labels and have held on to the importance of nuance and complexity".

India slipped to 138 out 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, which is compiled by Reporters without Borders (RSF), which warned of growing animosity towards journalists, which was a threat to democracy. The reports mentioned hate speeches which targeted journalists and troll armies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with respect to India. It also mentioned the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

Bukhari often spoke of how some in the mainstream media poisoned the discourse on Kashmir with hate and divisiveness. He was someone who organized and attended conferences and sessions on the situation in Kashmir which were aimed at bridging the divide between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. Nidhi Razdan, executive editor of NDTV, in a column writes on the risks of reporting from the valley –

"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".

"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".

Before his death he tweeted about the controversial United Nations report on Kashmir which called for an inquiry into multiple human rights violations in the region. His last few lines from the 2016 BBC column seem particularly pertinent –

"Media should not be seen as an enemy in a democratic set up. Stifling the media does not help to strengthen the democracy that has been under threat in Kashmir for such a long time".