It is hard to write about the person who means everything to you, and very hard to put in words the irreparable loss and suffering once that person is gone. It has been more than five months without Shujaat, and his absence has turned into deep and profound loss, a loss that I don’t think we will come to terms with any sooner. Since his death, we have been dying every day, slowly and bitterly. Even today we are tormented by different questions – questions like what did his murderers achieve? Did they celebrate after taking life of a man who had devoted his life to the cause of peace? Did it fit their sham narrative that they had built around him? Will his murderers be at peace ever knowing all that they have done and perhaps still do? In Shujaat’s murder, we have lost the peace – that includes everyone.
Most people who knew my husband knew him as a journalist and an advocate of peace. Wherever he went he preached peace and in his personal life also he valued and practiced peace. He was a noble soul, kind to his colleagues and coworkers whom he treated as belonging to his own family. It was perhaps for this reason that we still hear from his well-wishers and all those who knew him.
Shujaat was a journalist by his own proclivities. He liked to remain updated with anything that would happen, be it on this side of the border or the other. Violence troubled him immensely. Any episode or incident in which people died would disturb him for days. He strongly believed that violence could be ended if peace were given a chance. I remember the days when he strongly advocated Confidence Building Measures and there was a brief stint when the governments of India and Pakistan shook hands. He believed open trade and travel across LoC would bring the two Kashmirs closer and remove some bitterness in the two neighboring countries. We didn’t understand most of it, but we could gather that he worked relentlessly for good relations between India and Pakistan.
Shujaat often used to say that he owed a lot to The Hindu family. We went to The Hindu office in Chennai last year. We were well received, and he always felt obliged to visit anyone from The Hindu family. While working with the newspaper, it had influenced him so much that he revered it. His work and contribution to the newspaper were appreciated and won him many accolades. He didn’t use to participate in debates that carried no meaning. He was selective about media platforms and organizations and generally used to avoid channels were cacophony instead of reason was content. Recently, the Frontline magazine team published a book on Shujaat, a compilation of selected works of my deceased husband. With a heavy heart did we turn the pages and read the book. It needs enormous courage to stand all this. For the honor that the Hindu newspaper has shown to our own family, we are highly indebted to them.
Shujaat never stopped writing. Besides contributing to Frontline and other national and international news publications, in his own newspaper Rising Kashmir that he founded in 2008 he never missed his column – On The Record. Even after his death the Column continues to appear in the newspaper with his articles being republished. I am told that his column is to retell all that he wanted to say, all that he believed in and worked for. May be there are people who missed the message of peace and reason.
He was grounded. I think the difference between him and other journalists was that he always liked to report from the place where he was himself present and where he saw things, observed situation. He was realistic. He wrote articles few times on journalists who got carried away and compromised on the objectivity. He also wrote extensively on jingoistic media. One of his last columns was on fake news and new challenges before conventional media.
Besides journalism, Shujaat was an advocate of vernacular press. It was for his love and dedication to promote local languages that Kashmir Media House added Sangarmal (in Kashmiri) and Buland Kashmir (Urdu) in its publications. He was an active member of Adbee Markaz Kamraaz and he headed the cultural organisation. He was quite pragmatic in his decisions as he stressed more on practical methods to promote the languages. In some of his columns also one can find the concerns faced by vernacular press and languages in particular addressed threadbare.
The contribution of Shujaat to the field of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir has been in many forms, which we realize now and then. Many young journalists who in the past worked at Rising Kashmir and worked with Shujaat could be seen today representing some reputed media organizations. We often get to hear from them, and their reverence seems to have gained with time.
It is difficult for someone to pick up on the trail left by my deceased husband. All his efforts and the work he did have no doubt been acknowledged, but his sudden departure has left a void which is hard to fill.
There were voices who spoke against him, but Shujaat always preferred to engage everyone in talks even his strongest critics. He believed in dialogue and defended it till he breathed his last breath.
There has been no lead in the case, at least we don’t know why he was silenced. Against the irreparable loss, the questions have become absurd.
His loss has made us more determined to take up his work. The institution he founded, Kashmir Media House, under which we have different publications, suffered initially. But we have been able to restore their status and are working to resume all publications, and God-willing will add more to the house.
It has been difficult managing it in his absence as Shujaat himself micromanaged the institution. He interacted with all reporters including the interns, editors, designers, columnists, contributors and other staff members. Besides the members of Kashmir Media House, he was an active member of different journalism bodies.
We pray and hope that we don’t falter in the mission that has now come to us. Friends and well-wishers have responded well. We can continue and we will continue the mission of peace, of reason and goodwill collectively.
He would go to any length to help people in distress. At times like when Kashmir got flooded in 2014 or at the time of earthquakes, he would become an activist. His philanthropy was not restricted by the notions of any faith, culture or ethnicity.
When I look back and recall times and incidents wherein Shujaat helped others, there is much to write. It can’t be abridged or condensed in few lines or paragraphs. Perhaps I will write those accounts in future and come up with a book.
Of all the people Shujaat helped, he was more stirred by the youth. Given a chance he would have build schools, colleges and universities everywhere so that not a single youth were left uneducated. He personally believed in the sanctity of these institutions. Accomplishments of the youth in various fields tended to his spirits and he would indulge in activities to promote education and excellence in different fields including higher education.
Shujaat believed in the rights of the people and his articles show it. Whether it was AFSPA or Kunan Poshpora, he was vocal about the rights of the people.
We have suffered on not just one level but many. It will take time and hard efforts besides courage to move on or rather move ahead. The only consolation is that we have not given up. Even saying it needs some courage and will. Shujaat chose the path of reason, and there is nothing that can deter us to tread the same. We have a mission now, the mission to carry forward his legacy. There are many obstacles in our path, like there were in his, but we are prepared to face the challenges.