Shujaat Bukhari’s assassination: Wails from Kashmir Valley

Why does violence in the Kashmir Valley benefit only one political formation, asks Gauhar Raza

IANS photo
IANS photo

Gauhar Raza

I came back from a three-day visit to Srinagar with a very heavy heart. The moment I landed there, I got the news that the alliance between the BJP and PDP had broken down. I soon learnt that the BJP had pulled the plug. Earlier, it was a case of pulling strings which had become increasingly inconvenient for both the partners. PDP was losing ground in the Valley and the BJP was losing its face among its own constituency, vicious at times, which it has nurtured for long.

The first question which came to my mind was "Is there a correlation between under pressure declaration of ceasefire during Ramzan, the intense response from the rabidly communal force against the ceasefire, murder of Shujaat Bukhari and Aurangzeb and finally the fall of the state government?"

I had gone to Srinagar to pay my respects to Shujaat Bukhari, to meet his family and his courageous colleagues. I thought it was necessary to call on them and convey that they are not alone in their hour of sorrow and pain.

I was told the family was still in the village and had not come back to Srinagar. Therefore, I decided to go and meet them there. I reached their residence around 11:30 in the forenoon; it was the seventh day after the cold-blooded murder.

The entire village was full of heavily armed policemen. Two large plots had been converted into parking spaces for vehicles. After my body scanning was over, those who were standing at the gate to receive guests led me to a corner of the bigger and enclosed Shamiana.

Shujaat’s elder brother, surrounded by guests and family members, was sitting there. After the introduction (I had not met him earlier) and a warm hug, Basharat Bukhari introduced me to his uncle. I was asked to sit between the two. Everyone knows that the first few moments refuse to pass, time freezes and emotional rush leaves you speechless. You know that words will refuse to represent feelings and they sound hollow to your own ears.

I was reminded of Safdar Hashmi’s murder and thought that the entire family was passing through a phase when feelings of pain and anger came alternatively in waves. Basharat was still in shock and so was his uncle, yet he was completely in control of his emotions

Basharat broke the silence and said ‘Shujaat had come to my house that day; he was looking very relaxed, I did not tell him that but I had noticed that the black rings around his eyes had vanished, and a few hours later we saw on television scroll that he had been shot at. He was five years younger to me but his contribution is far bigger than any one of us’.

In the evening when reporters come back from the field, I was to meet Shujaat’s colleagues. The meeting was scheduled at the office of Rising Kashmir. As I entered the editorial office space, I saw a team of young boys and girls, busy doing their work. The average age of people was probably 25 years. All of them turned towards me, quickly finished their work and came to the central part of the hall where couches were arranged in a rectangular shape, probably for daily meetings. As I started conveying condolences, the pain along with memories of Shujaat returned on their faces.

I saluted their courage and determination, the entire team of Rising Kashmir had stood like a solid rock when they took the decision to publish the newspaper a few hours after Shujaat was declared dead. For me, each one was a shining star, for stars shine brightest when there is darkness all around. One of the youngest girls said, "We asked ourselves what ‘Shujaat Sir’ would have expected from us, work through the night and bring out the issue or declare it a day of mourning; the answer was loud and clear."

The wounds were still fresh, but all pairs of bright young eyes fixed on me reflected the same resolve to carry on the struggle and legacy of Shujaat. They knew that response to every shocking, cowardly and violent act was to continue reporting. They knew that pen is the only weapon that they have and it is the most potent one which humanity has ever invented. Shujaat’s murder had proved that those who believe in violence are afraid of the pen, they are afraid of multiplicity of voices and diversity of opinions, they are afraid of freedom of expression, and, above all, they are afraid of people who are not afraid of them.

Who killed Shujaat is a question that everyone is asking in Kashmir; and they give an answer too. We will never find out

You never know which bullet carries your name and from which direction will it come? The three most common refrain one heard were that home-grown extremists had killed him, agencies had killed him or terrorists from across the border had killed him. You can pick and choose any one depending upon your political views.

Most Kashmiris have learnt to hide their views and tell you the story that you, in their opinion, would want to listen to. The Valley once referred to as ‘heaven on earth’ has been turned into a ‘land of mistrust and suspicion’.

We have almost forgotten that the primary responsibility of providing safety in any civilised society lies with the State. When a crime is committed, the government must solve it and ensure that the perpetrators are punished as per the law of the land.

In Kashmir, the government has failed in its duty too often. There are thousands and thousands of cases of heinous crimes in Kashmir which remain unsolved. Each unsolved case adds to mistrust and fear, and closes the doors for normality to return.

One would have expected that the fall of the PDP-BJP government would have brought celebrations to the Valley but this did not happen. Almost every Kashmiri I met believed that this is the beginning of a new phase of bloodshed. They have experienced Governor’s Rule earlier. Ordinary Kashmiri citizens, including the shopkeepers whom I talked to, felt that the Modi government had failed on every front, had not been able to fulfil any promise which it had made, and had also exhausted all emotive issues.

They cannot go in for war with either Pakistan or China, they cannot afford to engineer large-scale riots because international capital would withdraw, the corporate sector would wind up and leave and the already sick economy would then take a nose dive into a deeper crisis.

But Kashmir is an old horse which can be whipped at any point of time. The election year will bring more violence to us in Kashmir and ferocious nationalism to the rest of India.

A cigarette shop owner asked me, "Sahab yeh bhi to kabhi puchhye ke har tashaddud bhara waqya, har khooni eik hi siyasi tanzim ko kyon faida pahunchata hai? (Why does every violent incident and every murderer benefits only one political formation?)"

I did not have the courage to ask him which political formation did Shujaat’s murder benefit.

More importantly, you don't ask such questions in Kashmir openly, the answer can cost the life of the respondent.

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