Vilification of fellow journalists on major TV channels and on social media is having real-life consequences, senior journalist and founding editor of the news portal The Wire Siddharth Varadarajan told a condolence meeting on Monday. He was addressing a condolence meeting at the Press Club of India in memory of the late editor of Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari, who was shot dead last week outside his office by alleged militants.
Long before Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated on June 14, his character was assassinated multiple times by the people in Kashmir, India, and Pakistan, Varadarajan recalled.
“When a person like Shujaat Bukhari with all the reason, rationality and good sense at his command can be labelled on Indian TV channels as soft separatist, pro-terrorist, pro-Pakistani…when his entire life’s work can be dismissed in such a cavalier fashion by people who know nothing at all about Jammu and Kashmir or politics and history of this country, the space for hidden forces to engage in active terrorism, over which you have no control, expands,” he asserted.
Varadarajan was perhaps the only Delhi editor who flew top Srinagar and joined the funeral of the slain journalist in Kreeri.
He also referred to a section of people in Kashmir and Pakistan who had accused Shujaat of selling out Kashmir after he participated in some international conferences.
“My request to all those people and who are so free with their adjectives on TV channels and on social media, labelling people as anti-national, pro-Pakistan, pro-India….please think a hundred times about the real-life consequences of this kind of nonsense that you’re engaging in,” Varadarajan said, regretting how name calling has muddied public discourse in India.
“Deal with people’s arguments, learn to respect and if you don’t like what somebody like Shujaat is writing or saying, argue it out but don’t say ha-ha we know who you represent, we know whose agent you are, we know on whose behalf you’re speaking. What kind of public discourse is it?” he wondered, exhorting Shujaat’s critics to pay a visit to his family, his friends and colleagues in Srinagar.
“Thousands of people turned out for his funeral because of the love and respect they had for him. Go and justify before the people there the kind of campaign that had been waged against him to run down his name, his entire body of work simply because you don’t agree with something that he may have said or written,” Varadarajan, who had just returned from Kashmir, told the slain editor’s critics.“A tweet here and a tweet there, and views on TV have consequences which you can’t control and in this case, we have lost a dear friend and colleague.”
“Shujaat had the courage to speak forthrightly in a situation where being forthright invariably annoys one side or the other. And I don’t know how easy it would be for others to take his place.”
He described Bukhari’s assassination as a “huge setback to the cause” that was dear to him; which he said is “finding an honourable solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir that would be first and foremost acceptable to the people of the state and lay foundation for India and Pakistan to be at peace with each other and for India to be at peace with itself.”
“He is the 19th journalist to have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir since the conflict began in the state in 1990,” Varadarajan pointed out.“A fine paper Kashmir Times is in dire financial straits because successive governments stopped advertisement for simple reasons that the paper doesn’t print what the government wants it to print. Rising Kashmir was also blacklisted by the DAVP.”
“State agencies are today trying to dictate what good journalism is and what isn’t,” he said, adding “Here you can brush it aside and laugh at them. But this pressure in Jammu and Kashmir can mean the difference between freedom and imprisonment.”
The condolence meeting was organised by PCI in association with Indian Women’s Press Corps, South Asia Free Media Association, Indian Journalists’ Union, Editors Guild of India, Press Association and Indian chapter of South Asian Women in Media.