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How we learnt about Kashmir from Shujaat Bukhari

Well-respected Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari was murdered in Srinagar on Thursday. I had the privilege of editing his weekly column for The Friday Times here in Pakistan for two years when I was news editor. Each week I got a lesson on the complex background of the struggle in the valley which he brilliantly explained...

SAMAA | - Posted: Jun 15, 2018 | Last Updated: 3 years ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Jun 15, 2018 | Last Updated: 3 years ago

Well-respected Rising Kashmir editor Shujaat Bukhari was murdered in Srinagar on Thursday.

I had the privilege of editing his weekly column for The Friday Times here in Pakistan for two years when I was news editor. Each week I got a lesson on the complex background of the struggle in the valley which he brilliantly explained with easy-to-understand writing and context. Each week I marvelled at how finely and carefully he chose his words to ensure he stayed right in the middle of the debates and criticsed stakeholders fairly, even if they were the Kashmiri people themselves. And while there are too many pieces to choose from, I decided to put together a few that give a sense of the immense depth and breadth of his work as a damn fine reporter.

1. Calling out bias: He reminded us not to forget the Kashmiri people when we talked about Kashmir
In November 2016, when the Indian government banned for one day the premier news channel NDTV, Shujaat Bukhari’s piece ran as ‘Double Standard Operating Proceduce’. The government was upset with how it said NDTV had covered the Pathankot terrorist attack. It said strategically sensitive information had been given out. Bukhari asked why no one protested when the Kashmir Reader was banned for a month? Under the BJP rule, mainstream media had fallen in the trap of defending “national sovereignty and security” as a result of which “primetime news rooms have turned into virtual ‘war rooms’”. In September that year he analysed biases at the UN when leaders spoke.

2. Highlighting solutions: He reminded us of the small things that made a difference
In December 2016, he cheered cross-LoC trade when it completed eight years and was worth $699 million. In November 2017, he wrote of CBMs turning 17 years old. One of my favourite pieces was on language when the Jammu & Kashmir education department issued a historical order that Kashmiri, Dogri and Bodhi would be taught as compulsory subjects in classes 9 and 10.

3. Detailed reporting on violence: He used facts to debunk myths, analysed causes
In April 2017, he wrote about the horrifying video of Farooq Dar of central Kashmir’s Beerwah tied to the front of a jeep by the army for 22km as a human shield to keep the stone pelters at a bay. Young Kashmiri people (and not foreigners) see these kind of things and are turning to militancy, Bukhari warned. “The ratio of foreigners and locals was 70:30 but today, according to officials, it is the opposite. He gave a yearly breakdown and how the graph went up after Afzal Guru’s hanging in 2013. He repeatedly said, and indeed, this was the biggest take-away from his columns that, “New Delhi continues to be in denial. There is an absence of political engagement.” He also covered the time when men would chop off women’s hair as a tactic.

4. The religion angle: He explained just how much of this was to blame
In June 2017, he wrote an excellent piece on the myth of Islamisation in Kashmir. Analysts argued that Kashmir is becoming Wahhabi (Salafi or Ahle Hadith). If an odd ISIS flag was held by some delinquent boys after Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid it becomes the headline of the day.
He broke down the popularity of the Ahle Hadith but cautioned that they have not led the political struggle that has been going on for over 27 years. Kashmir’s armed struggle was pioneered by the openly secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the late 1980s. Ahle Hadith in Kashmir have not played much of a role in the separatist movement. In fact, after the assassination of one of its vibrant presidents, Moulana Showkat, it kept a low profile. “Even if one goes by the theory of “Islamisation” why have only 100 Kashmiris become militants in the last four years compared to 15,000 in 1990? The radicalization is political.”

5. Militancy and martyrs: He knew why young people had a death wish
He wrote in detail about Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8, 2016 and that summer of violence, examining from all angles each week the effect it had in Delhi, in the valley and in the hearts and minds of the people. He covered all the killings, their effect and outcomes. His wisdom shone through like a beacon in a dark sky: “Sanction for violence as a way to end the conflict has grown. This outlook is creating the space to make it a legitimate way to fight the Indian state.”

6. Beautiful things not forgotten: He wrote about culture in Kashmir
When I pressed him, he began to write at length about Kashmiri culture. There was Atiqa Bano, the educationist and Meeras Mahal. There was the story on the ancient Neelum valley Sharda temple and how it represented a non-political archaeological culture. He even wrote a piece about the history of the J&K flag. 

7. Follow-ups on crime: Reliable reporting on big cases
Shujaat Bukhari followed up on all investigations and examined them from multiple angles with the insight that only most seasoned of beat reporters can, covering the bureaucratic, police and administrative developments.

8. Land, roads and geography: Often neglected aspects of life in the valley
He wrote about infrastructure and the way it affected people’s lives and how government or policy making intersected with this. For example, he covered the geography of Sadhna Top on Kupwara-Tangdhar road where 11 people died. When I asked him to shed light on the census, he covered the demographics of the valley as well.

9. Politicians and rulers: He spared few at the top
He covered all the leaders with his deep understanding of their histories, personalities, politics and impact of their decisions. He impartially dealt with the separatists, calling them out on bad strategy with astute arguments on why they did not work. I cannot imagine that he was anything less than respected for this even if they did not agree with him. He covered New Delhi’s decision-making and Modi’s policies on Kashmir in depth, providing a nuanced perspective on its shortcomings and the subtext of the BJP’s language. 

 

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