By Farooq Wani
A year has passed without Shujaat. Although he is physically not present, his friends and colleagues in profession always feel him around them. Who can forget a person like Shujaat? He lives in the hearts of his readers and the literary masterpieces produced by him will remain there till eternity to remind the future generations that a gentle soul like him lived on this world once upon a time.
Police investigations suggest that the plot to kill Shujaat Bhukhari was laid out by Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). The reason for his killing was his support to the initiative of the Union Government towards suspension of operations during the holy month of Ramadan and his other efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue. The motive establishes the determination of the foreign power to suppress all voices of moderation that work towards peace in the region.
This columnist had the opportunity to meet Shujaat Bhukhari on June, 14 just before he was killed by unknown gunmen. I had known Shujaat for years since we had been meeting in several media related events, yet our association could be what people refer to as ‘professional acquaintance.’ While I knew Shujaat ‘the journo’ pretty well, besides he was a good human being’.
The meeting was held to discuss a path breaking initiative that he had taken to establish a Jammu and Kashmir Editors Forum (JKEF). Since I was also keenly involved in the initiative I got to meet him often, sometimes twice a week, in the time preceding his very unfortunate murder. As I interacted with him more closely, I found him to be an exceptional human being with impeccable professional qualities and a deep sense of conviction in his own views on the subject of his homeland and his people. He was constantly thinking of ways and means to stop the incessant suffering of his people due to the debilitating cycle of violence, and disruption of normal life.
After Asar prayer, I left my office in Aabiguzar to fulfill my last commitment for the day and reached at Rising Kashmir office within few minutes. It was around 6.15 PM when I met Dr. Shujaat Bhukhari and after the customary exchange of pleasantries we got down to discuss matters concerning the JKEF as well as issues we had raised with Government and concerned authorities a few days back.
Being a thorough professional, Dr. Bhukhari seldom deviated from the matter under discussion, but on that day our conversation somehow took a different trajectory and we ended up talking about the current situation in Kashmir.
In our discussion we talked at length about macro-level issues like the geopolitical landscape in entire South Asia. We also debated ground realities like Indo-Pakistan acrimony, the JuD contesting elections in Pakistan and various options to resolve the Kashmir issue including General Pervez Musharraf’s ‘Four Point Formula.”
When I raised the issue of Islamabad not empowering residents of Gilgit-Baltistan, Shujaat did not out-rightly reject my viewpoint but put things in the correct perspective with facts and figures. His excellent explanation was an eye-opener that convinced me that the lack of empowerment is a misnomer being spread by vested interests and the situation there is far much better than is being portrayed by motivated entities.
The discussion then shifted to the credibility of local news agencies and here Shujaat spoke very highly about GNS for the promptness and accuracy of their reports. In the final phase of our conservation we discussed the roadmap for JKEF. Shujaat was confident that by collectively pursuing issues creating functional problems for newspapers with small and medium viewership with concerned authorities, these problems could be resolved. Dr. Bhukhari spoke of his plans to mentor and guide the members of JKEF and help this forum in achieving international recognition in ethical journalism and credible reporting. Today, it seems a herculean task but on June 14 it was not so because we had a dedicated person like Shujaat Bhukhari to carry forward the concept.
It was around 7 PM when we wrapped up our discussion. Normally I would bid Dr. Bhukhari good bye and leave, but on that day, for first time he stood up from his chair and accompanied me towards the door. While walking Dr. Bhukhari asked me “Farooq Sahab, do you pay Zakat and how much you usually pay.” I said that I do try and pay as per my capacity, but the amount is not much. Hearing this he went across to his bookshelf and after a brief search handed me a book saying, “Farooq Sahab, here is a book gifted to me by a colleague from The Hindu, if you have some time, please read it, it is indeed an excellent book for understanding Zakat and it will benefit you a lot.” The book that Dr. Bhukhari gave me was “Kitab-ul-Zakat”. My last question to him was where he did he intend celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr and he told me that he had planned to go to Kreeri on the holy occasion. I greeted him in advance for Eid and promised to give him a phone call on the holy day; we hugged each other and I left the office around 7.00 PM.
Barely five minutes later, one of my friends rushed into my office and shouted that Dr. Shujaat Bhukhari has been shot at. Unable to believe this, I rushed towards press colony only to find him lying in pool of blood inside his car. Everyone including me went into deep shock because no one could believe that a God-fearing person like him who went out of his way to help those in need and never had any ill feelings towards anyone would meet such a tragic end. Perhaps the last person Shujaat Sahib spoke to was me and even on that fateful day (just like every other meeting) he did not shirk his moral responsibility of showing me the way to become a better Muslim by educating me on the importance of Zakat.
The best tribute that can be given to Dr. Shujaat Bhukhari by the journalist community of Kashmir is to carry forward his legacy. I identify it as sustenance of his effort to establish JKEF and maintain high standards of ethical journalism while using the power of the pen to pull our people out of the morass that they are stuck in.