Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mukul Kesavan - Killing conversation The death of Shujaat Bukhari

The deaths of Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh have different local histories and a few all-India similarities. Lankesh and Bukhari were both journalists who had worked for what passes as the national English press before committing themselves to publications principally aimed at readerships in their states. After a career working for The Times of India and later Sunday, Lankesh took over her father's magazine, Lankesh Patrike, and then went on to edit the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, while Bukhari moved from being a correspondent with The Hindu to founding Rising Kashmir, an English newspaper based in Srinagar.

It isn't clear who Gauri Lankesh's killers were. Recent newspaper reports suggest that the police have closed in on a suspect affiliated to a vigilante organization notorious for communal goonery, the Sri Ram Sene, but there has been no trial or conclusive verdict. Similarly, no one has taken responsibility for Bukhari's assassination, though online suspicion ranges from jihadi separatists to the deep state. They were both shot by murderers on motorcycles, seemingly the preferred modus operandi for Indian assassins looking to silence dissenting journalists, intellectuals and rationalists. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Malleshappa Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh are now joined in their violent deaths by Shujaat Bukhari.

These killings show that the journalists most at risk in India are those who report from a ground zero that is also their home. Bukhari, like Lankesh, was a journalist who had gone out into the world and then chosen to return, to produce a Kashmiri newspaper that wasn't a partisan mouthpiece, one that produced news about Kashmir which couldn't be dismissed either as jihadi press releases or inspired leaks from a sarkari stool pigeon. This didn't mean that he was a neutral; it would have taken inhuman detachment for a Kashmiri Muslim from the Valley to be even-handed about the violence visited upon his people by the State. What it did mean was that he was committed to keep the news flowing, to keep dialogue going, to supporting any process that would mitigate the violence that had engulfed the place he called home.

To stand up for his principles as a journalist in a conflict zone took courage of an order that few of us possess. To continue to do this despite having a young family, despite having been kidnapped before, living under armed guard, suspected of being a traitor both by fanatical militants and the increasingly communalized agencies of the State, was everyday heroism of an order that we're either too cynical or too embarrassed to acknowledge. For the social media choruses of the security State and think tank hawks, Bukhari was a 'soft-separatist' or a 'quasi-Islamist'. These hyphenated terms belong to a class of conspiratorial neologisms coined to demonize positions that right-wing Hindu supremacists dislike. 'Pseudo-secularist' is the most famous of these. In the same way as Bukhari was classified as a soft-separatist, Gauri Lankesh was tagged as an 'urban-Naxal' in the unhinged echo-chambers of the Hindu Right, hours after she was murdered.

In an article he wrote for the BBC in July 2016, immediately after the killing of Burhan Wani, Bukhari bore witness to the dangers of being an independent journalist in Kashmir... read more: