by Tehmeena Bukhari
It is hard to write about a person who means everything to you. It is hard to put into words the irreparable loss and suffering that his death brings. It has been more than five months since Shujaat Bukhari, my husband was killed in Srinagar. Since his murder — unsolved to this day — we have been dying a little every day, slowly and bitterly. His murder and then his absence have filled us with a deep and profound sense of loss.
What did the killers of Shujaat Bukhari achieve?
Shujaat was a journalist above all else, a reporter for The Hindu and Frontline and the editor of Kashmir Rising. He loved Kashmir and wrote of it with feeling. He was devoted to peace, which was the ethical foundation of his journalism. Did his murderers celebrate his assassination? Did it provide them with something, the something that they took away from us? Are they at peace knowing that they have killed a man of peace? The murder of Shujaat Bukhari has silenced a voice of peace and damaged the cause of peace.
Violence troubled Shujaat. It went against his personality. He valued peace and justice — from peace in the house to peace in the streets. Any episode of violence, particularly when people died, disturbed him. He would be troubled for days afterwards. It was difficult, therefore, for this man, to have lived and worked in a world where peace has been elusive. Shujaat began his career as a reporter in the 1980s when the struggles inside and around Kashmir escalated. From his first days on the job, he had to navigate the reality of violence and his own longing for peace.
Shujaat was not a naive man. He believed that when social interaction between people increased, then the reasons for their rancour decreased. I remember well the days when he threw himself into the Confidence Building Measures dynamic. This was one of those brief openings when the governments of India and Pakistan decided to shake hands. Shujaat believed that open trade and open travel across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir would bring people closer. As these connections developed, he would say, the bitterness between people would decrease. We, his family, did not understand most of it but we knew he was sincere. We knew that he would obsessively follow events on both sides of the border, that he looked for openings towards peace everywhere.
Shujaat loved Kashmir. He believed that we should remain in our home and that he should write stories that explained the situation in the Valley for people around the world and within Kashmir. In 2008, Shujaat founded Rising Kashmir, a newspaper that had a major impact in the State. It was Rising Kashmir that modelled honest and truthful reporting of events that are fast-moving and difficult to understand.
Shujaat believed that a newspaper should create a place for nuance and for dialogue. Many people spoke harshly against him. He engaged everyone in dialogue and defended the right to hold different opinions till his death. He was murdered for opinions that someone did not like, even as he defended the right of others to hold opinions different from his own.
In his column, ‘On The Record’ Shujaat wrote with feeling about the hardness of life. He never missed a column. The paper now republishes his old columns. I am told that this column is reprinted to remind people of what he said, to remind us how little changes and how much remains the same. Many youngsters who worked at Rising Kashmirdeveloped their craft in the newspaper and now work as leaders in so many important publications in India.
Part of his love for Kashmir was his love for the Kashmiri language. Shujaat was an advocate of the vernacular press. It was because of him that the Kashmir Media Houseadded in Sangarmal (in Kashmiri) and Buland Kashmir (in Urdu) to their list of publications. In his columns, Shujaat championed Kashmiri and other vernacular languages. It was his love for Kashmir that moved his agenda of peace.
Last year, we visited the offices of The Hindu and Frontline in Chennai. It was a chance for me to see him with journalists of publications outside Kashmir for which he wrote. He was in his element. It was clear that he was happiest when around reporters. Right after Shujaat’s death, Kashmir Media House and its publications faltered. But we now realise that these institutions are Shujaat’s legacy. Journalism geared to peace was his life and we are committed to continue the institutions that he helped create.
(A medical doctor, the author is the wife of slain editor Shujaat Bukhari. The writeup first appeared in the newspaper The Hindu)