Just as you think Kashmir is slipping down the slippery slope, it starts plummeting. Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Rising Kashmir, was shot and killed last week. His two bodyguards too were not spared. A day later, an armyman, Aurangzeb was tortured and killed. There have been no reprisals from the government so far.
The police have arrested a person for “retrieving a gun from the spot of murder.” They believe this man is the “fourth suspect.” This is likely to be conjecture. Any onlooker foolish enough — and there are plenty in Kashmir — and curious enough might have a wish to own a gun. The times are such.
Earlier, the investigating agencies had released a photograph of three riders on a bike as prime suspects. If you look closely at the picture, you will see that the one in the middle is a child. The man behind him covers his face with his hands. No one is spared in Kashmir, no matter what your age, or your politics.
Bukhari was known to be a ‘moderate.’ That is a dangerous and loaded term in Kashmir. It just means you are in effect leading a double life. As a professional journalist, for reasons of credibility, Bukhari had to be seen to be not alienating the separatists. But since his politics was moderate, he would be forced to adopt at least some of the terminology that the authorities represented.
There has been a great deal of talk in India on the dangers that the journalists are facing from both militants and the state. In Kashmir, though, the nature of the danger is glaring. It is just not fashionable to toe a moderate line. Nevertheless, Bukhari trod that line pulsing with grenades. He was part of the so-called Track 2 efforts, a vague process in which you become a bridge between the authorities and the extremists, who are fighting for Kashmir’s separation from India.
For long it has been India’s position that Pakistan is funding the activities of the separatists in the border state. Pakistan has stoutly denied. In the Bukhari incident, it is not yet clear which group is responsible for the killing. There is a section of the die-hard liberals in India who suspect the foul play was engineered by the agencies. This stands not to reason. Bukhari was one of the popular voices in Kashmir who did not advocate violence. In fact, there are allegations that he financially benefited from the government for voicing reservations against violence.
What would the government gain from silencing him? The fact is that Bukhari’s role in Kashmir politics was always delicate. And it was sure to have made running his newspaper a stressful operation.
His murder also sets back the political clock in Kashmir. On the eve of Eid, there was talk of steps towards a less repressive air in Kashmir. The position of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Kashmir was turning more accommodative. The murder of Bukhari will reverse the situation.
Bukhari’s is not the first high profile murder, of course. The killing of senior Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq (1990) to that of the separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone (2002), to the attempted assassination of Fazl ul Haq Qureshi, (2009) Kashmir, have all been eliminatory violence disguised as a solution.
As a tweet said: “There is no Eid in Kashmir. From north to south, east to west, the Valley is in perpetual mourning. The graves are fresh, drenched in Friday rains. Some bare, some wear … grass, … some nicely done with stone-slates. But graves are graves after all.’
Indeed, for those in Kashmir, the shooting down of a reasonable voice must afford the greatest confusion. The silent majority of Kashmiris is not likely to prefer violence over peace. That even thinking along these terms will invite the bullets and bombs of the militants is now clear. Bukhari’s murder will result in the hardening of stances on both sides of the political spectrum. The future is fraught. And I am thinking of Bukhari’s two school-going children. And the boy in the middle riding on the bike, away from school.
C.P. Surendran is a senior journalist based in India