On Thursday evening, some assailants silenced one of the formidable and fearless voices in the country. Shujaat Bukhari, a veteran journalist, was shot dead just outside his office in the Press Enclave area in Srinagar, Kashmir. Witnesses said that bullets pierced his abdomen and head leading to his on-spot death. The two personal security officers (PSOs) who had protected him since 2000 (when he was first attacked) also died in the incident.
Unlike most media persons in Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari truly adhered to the principles of the fourth pillar of democracy. He condemned violence and human rights violations perpetrated by the state and militant organisations. In my opinion, while the majority of journalists in Kashmir have ideological leanings (their official and personal commentary is invariably contradictory), Bukhari was always a follower of sanity and objectivity. His thoughts and perceptions regarding the conflict in Kashmir were not the instruments of appeasement.
Pertinently enough, journalism in the valley dangles between the two extremes of pro-state and pro-separatist leanings – and scribes do their best to contain both of them while disrespecting journalistic ethics. The doublespeak becomes all too visible if their official reportage and social media commentary are juxtaposed. Many of the media persons have become ‘pain-sellers’ and have cunningly commercialised conflict-reporting.
Kashmir is regarded as one of the hotspots of journalism in India – and there are numerous media persons covering the ground situation. Now, among so many senior and budding journalists, why did the unknown gunmen only attack Shujaat Bukhari? What did he do, differently, to attract so much enmity? Was his moderateness unacceptable to the trouble-makers? Or was his understanding of the nuances and complexities of the Kashmir conflict unbearable? Had he been the follower of extreme ideological wings, would things have been otherwise?
These questions demand an answer.
It has now become a pattern in India – to kill the person who has an alternative opinion and differs from the one that is shared by the majority or the powerful people. Particularly, the press invites tremendous hatred as powerful people fear the strength of the truths being exposed to the masses. Therefore, they often try every method to silence the voices, once and for all. The situation is turning grim day by day.
In 2017 alone, 11 journalists were killed and 46 were attacked in India. According to the Reporters Without Borders commentary, the state and its ‘informal’ adherents are hell-bent upon terminating every critical voice in India. The report alleges that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been regularly employed by state agencies to label anti-establishment journalists as ‘anti-nationals’ and book them under infamous British-inherited sedition law. Furthermore, the troll army of the BJP’s IT Cell, some of whose members are followed by PM Narendra Modi and ministers like Piyush Goyal, do regularly participate in online smearing, character assassination, cyberbullying, and slut-shaming. Recently, Rana Ayyub, a prominent journalist who wrote a book on the Gujarat riots, was brazenly targeted on social media by these trolls.
In 2018, India’s rank in the Press Freedom Index dropped from 136 to 138. One of the reasons for this dip in rank was the brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh, who wrote against the Hindu nationalisation of the Indian state.
Given the poor and disoriented revenue model of the press in India, many of the media houses have been reduced to mere ‘lapdogs’, resulting in serious intervention in their editorial independence. Because of this financial dependency, the corporatisation of media is on the rise. No longer are issues like the Human Development Index, Environment Protection Index, World Health Care Index, inflation, unemployment, farmer crises, communalisation of the social fabric and the rights of minorities (on which India is performing poorer than some African countries) being discussed in the mainstream. Propaganda-based and diversionary topics (like the Hindu-Muslim debate, sedition, nationalism, and trivial politics) are doing the rounds on many channels during their Prime Time news. Even the revolutionary sting operation of Cobrapost (in which public was enlightened about the growing emotional and financial relationship between the big media houses and the Hindutva nationalists) was not covered by the mainstream media.
This growing trend within Indian press is just fulfilling the dream of Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. In my opinion, the sole and the definitive role of the media is to critically analyse the policies of the government and its agencies. When the press is robbed off this mission, then it can only serve the interests of the governor, not the governed.