Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari. Illustration by Anis Wani for The Kashmir Walla

Two years have passed since veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated but we still don’t know who the assassins were and their motives. On 14 June 2018, Mr. Bukhari and two police personnel, who were part of his security detail, were killed just as they had come out of his office in Srinagar’s fortified city centre.

The police had then pinned the blame on Lashkar-e-Toiba militant commander Naveed Jatt, who had fled police custody just weeks before Mr. Bukhari’s assassination. The police investigation into the killing went cold just six months later when Mr. Jatt was killed in a gunfight with government forces on 28 November.

In the weeks before his assassination, Mr. Bukhari had himself informed many of his friends, some even in the government, that he faced an imminent threat to his life but no security or any other measures were taken by the administration.

Mr. Bukhari is not with us anymore but the day of 14 June is to remember his long career, filled with many feats and remarkable initiatives he took upon himself; among them, the most prominent is the daily paper he founded, Rising Kashmir. But at the same time, he was also at the center of bridging the gap between India and Pakistan through Track-II talks.

He engaged with everyone across all sides to bridge the divide and somehow bring peace and stability to Kashmir, which has been in turmoil for decades now. This prompted an online vilification campaign against him, despite which Mr. Bukhari maintained his calm and continued to work. An anonymous blog was running campaign against him while a Delhi based prominent journalist accused him of being an agent, who received money. There was a case in court between him and the journalist over this issue. In another attempt, a speaker at a Delhi based think-tank denigrated him too.

In Kashmir, vilification campaigns have led to people’s killings and often Kashmir has celebrated its tall figures only after their deaths. We rarely celebrate people’s achievements whilst they are alive but even Mr. Bukhari’s killing hasn’t changed anything. Still, a lot has changed after his death; many conversations went silent, many initiatives went abandoned. Perhaps, this was the aim of the killers and we must ask if Kashmir has let them win.

The loss of Mr. Bukhari was more pronounced after August 2019, when the Central government revoked the semi-autonomous status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since then, the traditional press in Kashmir has seemingly taken a step back.

The newspaper he set up has significantly changed after him—Rising Kashmiris not the same anymore. Merely publishing daily news was not his mission. Mr. Bukhari would engage, influence, and overpower the wrongs and wouldn’t give up until he was successful. Had he been alive then, he would have spoken out and his paper would have documented the developments.

Journalists felt a threat after his assasination and continue to function under extreme conditions, causing a void in Kashmir’s media. Most recently two journalists were booked under anti-terror law for social media posts and others often get summoned for questioning by the police for their reporting. It has further added to suffocation of the press in Kashmir. To add more, the government has released a new media policy, which further throttles the space.

A well known personality, Mr. Bukhari wasn’t just known in journalism but politics, diplomacy and the upliftment of his society. He enjoyed life and used every minute of it to do something, to give his time and energy into issues that needed care. From Kashmiri language to politics, journalism to peace building, he had an influence over all. And perhaps, it was that quality of him, being able to hold conversations across the divides, launch initiatives, ideate outside the box, that got him killed on this day two years ago.

The Kashmir Walla,which has known Shujaat Bukhari since its establishment in 2011, will always remember him as an editor, friend, and a person who inspired many while it remains a mystery who killed him and why exactly.

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