“Who killed him then?”, asked an elderly Kashmiri among thousands of mourners who turned up at the funeral of journalist Syed Shujaat Bukhari here on Friday.
Evidently, he was reacting to statements pouring in from various political parties –both mainstream and separatist-their leaders, government functionaries in Srinagar and Delhi, militant organisations and almost everyone else who identifies himself with Kashmir at home as well as abroad. All have termed Bukhari’s killing as “murder of humanity” and an attempt to “muzzle press freedom” and “silence saner voice of Kashmir”
While man with grey beard and short hair was speaking to another resident, a prominent separatist activist could be seen struggling through the crowd to find a place for himself in the first row as mourners were lining up to offer Nimaz-e-Jinaza (funeral prayer) of Bukhari.
50-year-old Bukhari, the group editor-in-chief of daily newspapers Rising Kashmir (English), Buland Kashmir (Urdu) and Sangarmal (Kashmiri) and weekly Parcham (Urdu) was attacked by three motorcycle-borne gunmen in his car outside his office in Srinagar’s media hub Mushtaq Press Enclave on Thursday evening. Bukhari received multiple bullets in his head and abdomen and was declared brought dead at the hospital. His two security guards-J&K police constables Hamid Chaudhary and Mumtaz Awan-were also killed in the attack.
Among the mourners who while braving thunder and rains joined the funeral prayer were politicians of all stripes, government functionaries including ministers, senior police officials, human rights activists, media persons, social workers and sundry. There was commotion in first couple of rows as everyone was trying to stand close to the coffin draped with a piece of velvet fabric on which the verses from the Qur’an were beautifully embroided in gold.
In somewhat brouhaha Bukhari’s father Prof. Syed Rafi-u-Din Bukhari and brother Syed Basharat Bukhari who is a minister in the PDP-BJP government got pushed on second row. Among the close kin, it was only slain journalist’s teenage son Tamheed who stood firm and did not leave his place next to the coffin.
The imam performed the funeral prayer out loud and everyone else followed him. As the prayer ended, all yelled “Allahummaghfirlahu warhamhu wa’fu ‘anhu, wa adkhil hul jannat” (O Allah! Forgive him and have mercy on him, give him strength and take him into Paradise). Bukhari was laid to rest in the family cemetery beside the mausoleum of famous Sufi saint Syed Muhammad Murad Bukhari in this sleepy village about 41-km northwest of J&K’s summer capital Srinagar.
Earlier as the cortege started from his ancestral home a furlong away, there was screaming, yelling and wailing by women standing in compound corners, the veranda and the balconies. His wife Dr. Tahmina looked through a window of the second floor of the house to have a glimpse of the cortege and then screamed. Her face stood frozen and her eyes were asking the crucial question “Who killed him”?
Bukhari before taking over as editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir in 2009 had worked as J&K correspondent of The Hindu for fifteen years. He was provided police protection in 2010 after he was survived a couple of attacks and kidnapping.
Rising Kashmir which published its daily edition on Friday even after losing its editor-in-chief carried the full-page photograph of Bukhari in black background. The message written below it said “You left all too sudden but you will always be our leading light with your professional conviction and exemplary courage. We won’t be cowed down by the cowards who snatched you from us. We will uphold your principle of telling the truth howsoever unpleasant it may be…Rest in peace!”