Rising Kashmir hits stands next day, Bukhari’s son writes an emotional piece
While the assailants of senior Kashmir journalist Shujaat Bukhari could have been able to silence him, they were not able to silence his institution or his family, AJAZ RASHID reports
While the assailants of veteran Kashmir journalist, Shujaat Bukhari were able to silence him by executing him, what they were not able to do was silence his journalism and his ideas as Rising Kashmir, the institution he nourished for a decade hit stands with a strong message the next day. Days later, Bukhari’s son, Tamheed wrote an emotional column in the newspaper his father founded, hinting that while the beloved journalist had passed on, he had also passed on his legacy.
“We thought it was a burst of crackers,” says Faisul Yaseen, Rising Kashmir’s Associate Editor as staccato fire shook the window panes of the newsroom. It was around 7.25 pm, just 15 minutes to iftar, and the journalists of Rising Kashmir, located in a concrete office block in the busy Press Enclave area of Lal Chowk, mistook the noise as crackers announcing the sighting of the crescent moon as Ramzan drew to a close.
Looking two storeys down, Yaseen immediately sensed trouble. He could see that the window panes of his editor Shujaat Bukhari’s car were smashed on all four sides. He rushed down the stairs, reaching the stop just after his colleague Irshad Ahmad. By then, the police had started firing in the air to disperse the crowd that had collected around the car.
“From the corner of the road, I saw the editor fallen to the bullets, still and unmoving. He was facing downwards in a pool of blood,” recalls Yaseen.
Upstairs, staff in the 20-member newsroom dissolved in tears as the truth about what had transpired slowly became apparent as they watched through the windows. In a group, they first rushed to the nearby police station and then to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. Bukhari had survived three attempts on his life since and so some of them nursed a flicker of hope even though as many as 16 bullets were pumped into his body from close range. But this time Bukhari was unlucky and the doctors declared him brought dead.
“It benumbed the staff. We could not process what has happened,” says young Danish Nabi, who doubles up as a reporter and desk hand. Shocked and confused, about ten Rising Kashmir employees – a mix of reporters, sub-editors, and marketing staff – started chasing the police van that carried Bukhari’s body to the Police Control Room (PCR) for the legal formalities.
After his family decided to take the body to his native town Kreeri in Baramulla, 41 km away from Srinagar, a small team of distraught second rung editors returned to the office. As they gathered in a pall of despondent gloom, the last thing they had on their minds was putting that day’s edition of Rising Kashmir to bed.
But as they talked among themselves to console each other, the mood changed from one of despondency to purpose. “We recalled what Shujaat said after he survived a major stroke that left him paralysed in 2015 for a couple of months,” says Yaseen, the paper’s second-in-command. “He said he wanted to see this institution run even when he was down.”
The staff asked themselves two questions. What would Shujaat have done in such a crisis? And what is the best possible response to his killers? “The answers to them were clear as crystal,” says Yaseen. “It was to get down to work and get the paper to the press.”
Earlier on that fateful, Bukhari had finalised the United Nations report on Kashmir as the lead story and the Eid crescent as the possible second lead. It was already 9 p.m. and the staff knew it would be impossible to meet the usual 10.30 pm deadline. That night, they would put the paper to bed at 1. am.
A former employee, one of a few that had come to the Rising Kashmir office in solidarity, offered to design the front page. It had a black-and-white picture of Bukhari and the text read: “You left all too sudden but you will always be our leading light with your professional conviction and exemplary courage. We won’t be cowed down by the cowards who snatched you from us. We will uphold your principle of telling the truth howsoever unpleasant it may be…RIP”.
The banner headline on the main page read: Shujaat Silenced.
All hands were requisitioned on the deck with sub-editors doubling up as reporters and as many as nine news stories the editor’s assassination prepared for the main page. This was a team that had turned down the dates offered at the Police Control Room by policemen as an offering to break the fast. They would not eat anything until they had finished with their reports, the team decided.
Eight pages were readied, instead of sixteen pages, the paper publishes normally. And it was rushed to the printer to be available on the stands the next day. At least four pages were dedicated to Bukhari’s assassination. One page reproduced the editor’s published columns on dialogue, peace and talks.
Impressed by the staff’s courage, former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said, “The show must go on. As Shujaat would have wanted it to. That Shujaat’s colleagues were able to bring out the paper in the face of insurmountable grief is a testament to their professionalism and the most fitting tribute to their late boss.”
A few days later, Bukhari’s son, Tamheed Shujaat Bukhari wrote the first column of his life and sent it to Rising Kashmir, the newspaper his father had founded a decade ago. The headline of his column read ‘Papa was a man of principles: He never uttered a bitter word against anyone.’
Tamheed, a 10th standard student of The Kashmir Valley School, Humhama, wrote, “June 14 was a horrific day for me and my family. It was the day I heard the horrible news of my father’s untimely death.
“On reaching the hospital in Police Control Room (PCR) Srinagar, I heard someone say, “He is no more.”
“The moment I heard it, my legs started trembling but I was still hoping against all hopes.
“A thousand thoughts flooded my mind. Maybe, he is still in the operation theatre? Maybe, he will come running toward me and hug me? However, his fate had befallen, his soul ascended.
“I still couldn’t understand why someone would do this to a righteous man like my father, Shujaat Bukhari.
“By this time, thousands had started to assemble inside the PCR. Well-wishers, friends, and family, all had their faces covered in tears of gloom. I was still in melancholy, trying to endure this pain when we left for our ancestral village with my father’s body.
“As I cried and wailed inside the ambulance, I kept hoping against all hopes that he might get up from lap of death and embrace me.
“Papa was a man of principles. I know that for sure. My dad was surrounded by thousands of haters but he never uttered a word of bitterness against any of them.
“He was a thinker but did not have an atom’s worth of conceit. He was an epitome of knowledge, benevolence, munificence and a thousand other noble qualities.
“Papa did not treat the staff at his office as employees but as our extended family. He mentored his staff to make them the best amongst the lot.
“He was a philanthropist and during the devastating Kashmir floods of 2014, he would hardly spend time at home and instead rescue the marooned people and helped thousands hit by floods.
“Papa would never tell us about the help he extended to scores of families. He was a son who had made his parents proud by doing virtuous deeds and staying on the path of truth.
“He worked for peace his entire life and was martyred for it. He believed that one day Kashmir would become free from innocent killings.
“He was passionate about Kashmiri language and a linguist scholar. He had a tremendous love for his mother-tongue, and the much-awaited dream of his of seeing Kashmiri taught upto 10th standard in schools got realised in June 2017.
“He was an altruistic, never had the desire for materialistic things of this mutable world. He attended hundreds of conferences with conscientious groups in every continent of the world to work something out for peace in Kashmir.
“Two of his cousins had also been shot dead during crossfire between militants and Army in the 1990s and with his death claimed our family lost a third person in Kashmir turmoil.
“His legacy is vast. I don’t know how I will be able to keep up with his expectations and magnanimity. He had always wanted me to become a man like his father, Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, pious and generous.
“Kashmir’s English journalism has produced many great reporters and editors, few heroes, but no martyrs. Now it has produced both. He always stood for unbiased journalism and never took sides of even his brother, who is in politics.
“Every one of his products had an emotional connection with him and saw him as a stamp of authority. Maybe, that is why he was loved by everyone. It is not surprising that in less than 10 years, Rising Kashmir became one of the most prominent and loved newspaper of Jammu Kashmir.
“Had Almighty wanted, he could have lifted his soul when he suffered a stroke two years ago. However, the Almighty had saved the most auspicious day of Ramadan, Jumatul Vida for him.
“He was not fit for this cruel world. God wants pious people like him there. May Allah grant him the highest place in Jannah. May he be bestowed with the choicest blessings of Jannah.”