By Steven Youngblood, director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
In peace starved Indian-controlled Kashmir, it’s disheartening beyond words when the region’s leading voice for peace, dialogue, and responsible journalism is silenced.
On June 14, the editor-in-chief of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, was shot and killed along with his two bodyguards outside the newspaper’s offices in Srinigar in Indian-controlled Kashmir. One young man was arrested in the killing, and police are seeking three other gunmen. (Rising Kashmir, June 15).
I had the honor of meeting Bukhari a few years ago during a peace journalism project in Kashmir. We chatted in his office and then discussed peace journalism with the staff of Rising Kashmir. It took seconds to see that Bukhari had a keen mind—quick to ferret out the key issues and to probe for insights. Though I’ve had dozens of such meetings with journalists through the years, the discussion with Bukhari and his staff still stands out as one of the most candid and valuable. (For details, see the blog I wrote in 2015 about the experience).
Though Bukhari was dubious about the label peace journalism, there’s no doubt that he and his staff practiced the concept. In 2016, I wrote, “Rising Kashmir is a fine newspaper that if anything is the opposite of inflammatory or sensationalizing. I was so impressed with their work that I used Rising Kashmir as an example of peace journalism in action in my textbook Peace Journalism Principles and Practices.” During our chat in his office, Bukhari and I discussed Rising Kashmir’s necessary balancing act. In volatile Kashmir, favoring either the Indian authorities or Kashmiri protesters or militants could result in the paper being raided by authorities (as it was in 2016) or the paper’s staff being the target of violence. Sadly, even Bukhari’s cautious professionalism couldn’t shield him from an assassin’s bullet.
Bukhari was noted for favoring a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict—a position that was the opposite of easy, convenient, or safe. He even helped to organize several peace conferences in the region.
After his murder, the tributes poured in. The Jammu and Kashmir lecturer’s form issued a statement which said in part, “The services which this great son of the soil rendered especially for those unvoiced sections of the society through his incredible writings are immortal.” (Rising Kashmir, June 18) Twitter comments included, “Well he was a sane voice of Kashmiri people, we condemn the killing,” and “So finally we have the answer to ‘who could have gained by killing a balanced voice like him!!’” Today, three Kashmiri newspapers ran blank columns on their editorial pages to protest the killing.
Even an optimist can’t help but be demoralized by Bukhari’s murder. If a peacemaking moderate can’t speak up in Kashmir, who can? Who can adopt Bukhari’s cause, and further, who would want to? Under circumstances like these, how much can we reasonably ask journalists to do to foster peaceful dialogues or promote reconciliation? Is peace journalism possible in conflict areas, and more specifically, is peace journalism dead in Kashmir? I am struggling with these questions more than ever.
In speaking with journalists in conflict areas, I almost always make it a point to remind journalists that they should ensure their safety first before thinking about their professional responsibilities.
Because of Rising Kashmir’s balanced approach and rejection of sensationalism, I didn’t think I needed to reiterate this point to Bukhari and his staff. Sadly, and tragically, I was wrong.
–Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn, and on my Peace Journalism Insights blog