Who was the fearless ‘voice of sanity’ Shujaat Bukhari?

In a horrifying incident, veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari was gunned down outside his Press Colony residence in Srinagar on Thursday. Bukhari, who was returning home from his office, was in his car when he, his driver and a personal security officer were attacked. The trio was rushed to the nearest hospital where the senior journalist succumbed to his injuries.

Who was he?

Recipient of World Press Institute USA fellowship, Bukhari had done his Masters in Journalism from Ateneo de Manila University, Manila as a fellow of Asian Centre for Journalism.

At present, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar-based newspaper, But previously, he had worked extensively with The Hindu and had even been the Bureau Chief of the esteemed daily. He was also the president of Adbee Markaz Kamraz, the biggest and oldest cultural and literary organization of Valley.

Assassination attempts

Known as the ‘voice of sanity’ in the terror-struck Valley, Bukhari had managed survived three assassination attempts on previous occasions.

A report mentioned that on July 8, 1996, government-backed militant group ‘Ikhwan’ abducted 19 local journalists in Anantnag district and held them as hostages for at least seven hours. Bukhari was among those abducted. He somehow managed to escape but this was not the only attack that he had evaded throughout his life.

Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO that promotes freedom off press, had once told a news source that in 2006, as Bukhari left his then Indian Express office in Srinagar, he was captured by two men who drove him several miles away from the city. However, when one of them tried to shoot the journalist, the gun jammed and Bukhari managed to escape. Bukhari later told Reporters Without Borders that the masterminds behind such attacks are rarely caught in Kashmir. “It is virtually impossible to know who are our enemies and who are our friends,” he had said.

Work and opinions

Bukhari had written in a tweet at 11.33am, just hours before his death, that he and his colleagues had “done Journalism with pride and will continue to highlight what happens on ground”, in response to a tweet that had described him as intolerant. This shows he was absolutely proud of his work and always stood up for his opinions.

In a column he wrote for Rising Kashmir, the slain journalist had backed the government’s announcement of ceasefire during Ramzan: “Whether these linkages can be stitched together or not, the ground for creating a space for peace and reconciliation is not missing on both sides.” In a hard-hitting piece for Newslaundry, titled ‘An Untraceable Murder’, Bukhari had all but lamented at the state of journalists’ welfare in Kashmir, and their families, particularly in the aftermath of their deaths. “Though working conditions for journalists in Kashmir have seen a change, the professional hazards continue to loom large,” he had written in 2012.

He was described by colleagues, politicians and friends as a strong advocate of peace in Kashmir. He had been part of India’s delegation for informal peace talks on Kashmir with Pakistani representatives held in Dubai last year. He was also instrumental in organising several conferences for Kashmir peace.

As the Indian media mourns the loss of one of the most prominent voices of Kashmir and the number of anguished reactions that have poured in condoling his death specify that such was Shujaat Bukhari’s stature in Kashmir that his assassination will not only be remembered for a very long time but will also have an extraordinary impact on the ground situation in the near future.

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