Syed Shujaat Bukhari: The Child, The Journalist, And The Editor
Bukhari was a mentor who groomed many journalists in Kashmir.
Syed Shujaat Bukhari was a man of many shades. From journalism to philanthropist to activism, he walked and talked it all. He was a tall figure but his humility and mannerism would even make the sky bow down in respect. Surely, such a towering personality did not deserve to die a brutal death. Shujaat Bukhari was brutally killed along with his two Personal Security Officers on June 14 in Press Enclave, Srinagar. Bukhari’s name would go down in history as one who gave his life to the cause of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat. Here is the story of one of the bravest journalists to have walked on Kashmiri soil.
Shujaat’s early life
Born on February 25, 1968, Bukhari passed his eight class from Government Boys Middle School Kreeri in Baramulla district. From ninth to 12th standard he studied at Government Boys Higher Secondary School Kreeri. He graduated with a degree in humanities from Government Degree College Sopore and then pursued his post graduation in Journalism from Kashmir University. During his post-graduation, he was also selected to work as an accountant in the Attorney General’s Office at Srinagar.
However, after completing his education, he left the lucrative job at the AG’s Office and started his journalistic career with the Submission Paper which was headed by senior journalist Saleem Pandith. Then he joined Samachar Post and subsequently became a full-fledged correspondent for Bombay-based tabloid The Daily. He soon left it and joined veteran Ved Basin’s Kashmir Times as a reporter, before joining The Hindu newspaper as its Kashmir bureau chief. In March 2008, he started his own newspaper—Rising Kashmir.
Bukhari’s journalistic career spanned nearly three decades. Apart from his stints in newspapers, he was also a regular commentator and appeared on various TV shows related to Kashmir politics.
A free bird
Jammu & Kashmir’s former cabinet minister and elder brother of Shujaat, Basharat Bukhari shares an interesting anecdote about how Shujaat became a journalist.
“Despite being the youngest of the three siblings, he was the first one to get a government job at AG’s office in Srinagar. However, he wanted to resign and pursue his dream of being a journalist. Our parents insisted that he continue his government job. He fought with the parents and confined himself to his room. When I reached home, the atmosphere at our home was heavy with tension. I intervened and somehow convinced my parent to allow Shujaat to live his dream. They were kind enough and allowed Shujaat to resign. The very next morning he resigned from AG’s office and joined Submission Paper. Next day Shujaat was a free bird,” recounts Basharat Bukhari.
Right from his childhood, journalism flowed in Shujaat’s veins. During 1970s and 1980s, the concept of reporter and correspondent was new in Kashmir. Most of the news came from the distributors and news agencies. “There were high chances of misreporting in those days. And almost on daily basis there used to be news against the Kreeri village. Shujaatwas in 6th standard when he decided to start his own newspaper agency. He named it Al Murad News Agency. Within span on only three years, at such a tender age, Shujaatdid wonders by expanding his newspaper agency. It was the first agency which used to have national newspapers and magazine like Frontline and The Indian Express newspaper available for the readers. However, the agency suffered financial losses as people did not return the money to Shujaat. To cover the financial losses, our mother withdrew her G P Fund and returned all the money that Shujaat had taken from the newspaper people,” says Basharat.
Being inclined towards journalism right from his school days, Shujaat had also started an organisation called Paradise Writers Forum when he was doing bachelors at Sopore Degree College.
Over the past two weeks or so, political pundits have been speculating as to the motive behind Bukhari’s killing. However, J & K Police are sure that it was Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that hatched the conspiracy to kill the valley-based senior journalist.
Addressing a press conference, the Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir, S.P. Pani said that it has “tangible evidence” that suggests that the conspiracy to kill Bukhari was hatched by LeT in Pakistan.
On the other hand, LeT has denied its involvement in the killing and has asked for an international probe in the matter. LeT is, in fact, blaming the “Indian agencies” for this dastardly act.
The killing of Shujaat is not the first of its kind that took place on the blood-drenched streets of Kashmir. In past also killings of prominent personalities like Dr Abdul Ahad Guru, lawyer Jaleel Andrabi, Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq, and “pro-freedom” leader Abdul Ghani Lone have taken place. It is certain that this slaying-spree is not going to end anytime soon.
The question that everyone is asking the answer to in Kashmir is why was Bukhari killed? Was he killed for his journalism or his activism? There is no denying the fact that in Kashmir there is no space for dissent. One cannot stay impartial in this landlocked Valley. The killing of Shujaat has once again forced us to live with this dangerous and dark fact that between two extreme narratives, a moderate and impartial voice is always going to be muzzled and muted.
Shams Irfan, a journalist working with weekly magazine Kashmir Life, explained this conundrum in plain and simple words. He says, “We all know that working in a place like Kashmir as a journalist comes with a certain amount of uncertainty. But, Shujaat Sahab’s brutal day-light killing was unimaginable.”
Bukhari nurtured many journalists in the valley. A number of journalists from Kashmir Valley, who now work with international or national media houses, have been a part of Bukhari’s venture Rising Kashmir at some point of time. He groomed them not like reporters but like their own children.
Chief Reporter of The Statesman, Junaid Kathjoo is one of the many young journalists who has started his career from Rising Kashmir. He fondly remembers his former editor.
While speaking to News Central24*7, Junaid says, “Whatever, I am today is only because of Shujaat Bukhari. He gave me the platform. He was a reporter’s editor.”
Junaid also mentions, “When Kashmir was hit by devastating floods and many of the local newspapers were running in losses in the Valley, it was Shujaat Sir who hiked my salary. He would call me Jangjoo reporter.”
He says that Shujaat Sir had an “eye for the reporter”. “He would groom young reporters like me.”
Apart from being a reporter’s editor, Bukhari firmly believed in equal representation of women in journalism Rising Kashmir is among the very few media houses in Kashmir where young female journalists are working.
Sumaiya Yousuf is one of the first female journalists who has covered the Kashmir conflict for over three years before moving to Times of India as a reporter in Bhopal.
Talking to News Central24*7 , Sumaiya said, “I am the first female journalist, who has extensively covered Defence and Security beat in Kashmir. It was Shujaat Sahab who encouraged me to cover the beat. Being a female reporter, I have faced many ugly situations, but it was Shujaat Sahab who always stood behind me.”
She added: “When I was harassed by Amod Ashok Nagpure, the Sub Divisional Police Officer of Sadder area, during the peak of 2016 unrest in Kashmir, it was again Shujaat Sahab who did all the things necessary to get the erring officer to apologise to me.”
She said that there was never pressure on reporters in the newsroom when he was around.
Name On Bullets
There is no doubt that the killing of Bukhari has left a big void in the field of journalism in the Jammu & Kashmir, but most importantly it has again led us to the point where one is bound to question if Kashmiris will ever be left alone to live in peace and prosperity. Or, is it that like Bukhari, we all have our names written on a bullet waiting to hit us, somewhere, someday.