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Stop press? Not at Rising Kashmir

The front page of the newspaper.  

“We thought it was a burst of crackers,” says Faisul Yaseen, Rising Kashmir’s Associate Editor as staccato fire shook the window panes of the newsroom. It was around 7.25 pm, just 15 minutes to iftar, and the journalists of Rising Kashmir, located in a concrete office block in the busy Press Enclave area of Lal Chowk, mistook the noise as crackers announcing the sighting of the crescent moon as Ramzan drew to a close.

Looking two storeys down, Yaseen immediately sensed trouble. He could see that the window panes of his editor Shujaat Bukhari’s car were smashed on all four sides. He rushed down the stairs, reaching the stop just after his colleague Irshad Ahmad. By then, the police had started firing in the air to disperse the crowd that had collected around the car.

“From the corner of the road, I saw the editor fallen to the bullets, still and unmoving. He was facing downwards in a pool of blood,” recalls Yaseen.

Upstairs, staff in the 20-member newsroom dissolved in tears as the truth about what had transpired slowly became apparent as they watched through the windows. In a group, they first rushed to the nearby police station and then to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. Bukhari had survived three attempts on his life since and so some of them nursed a flicker of hope even though as many as 16 bullets were pumped into his body from close range. But this time Bukhari was unlucky and the doctors declared him brought dead.

“It benumbed the staff. We could not process what has happened,” says young Danish Nabi, who doubles up as a reporter and desk hand. Shocked and confused, about ten Rising Kashmir employees – a mix of reporters, sub-editors, and marketing staff – started chasing the police van that carried Bukhari’s body to the Police Control Room (PCR) for the legal formalities.

After his family decided to take the body to his native town Kreeri in Baramulla, 41 km away from Srinagar, a small team of distraught second rung editors returned to the office. As they gathered in a pall of despondent gloom, the last thing they had on their minds was putting that day’s edition of Rising Kashmir to bed.

But as they talked among themselves to console each other, the mood changed from one of despondency to purpose. “We recalled what Shujaat said after he survived a major stroke that left him paralysed in 2015 for a couple of months,” says Yaseen, the paper’s second-in-command. “He said he wanted to see this institution run even when he was down.”

The staff asked themselves two questions. What would Shujaat have done in such a crisis? And what is the best possible response to his killers? “The answers to them were clear as crystal,” says Yaseen. “It was to get down to work and get the paper to the press.”

Earlier on that fateful, Bukhari had finalised the United Nations report on Kashmir as the lead story and the Eid crescent as the possible second lead. It was already 9 p.m. and the staff knew it would be impossible to meet the usual 10.30 pm deadline. That night, they would put the paper to bed at 1. a.m.

A former employee, one of a few that had come to the Rising Kashmir office in solidarity, offered to design the front page. It had a black-and-white picture of Bukhari and the text read: “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...RIP”.

The banner headline on the main page read: Shujaat silenced.

All hands were requisitioned on the deck with sub-editors doubling up as reporters and as many as nine news stories the editor’s assassination prepared for the main page. This was a team that had turned down the dates offered at the Police Control Room by policemen as an offering to break the fast. They would not eat anything until they had finished with their reports, the team decided.

Eight pages were readied, instead of sixteen pages the paper publishes normally. And it was rushed to the printer to be available on the stands next day. At least four pages were dedicated to Bukhari’s assassination. One page reproduced the editor’s published columns on dialogue, peace and talks.

Impressed by the staff’s courage, former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah said, “The show must go on. As Shujaat would have wanted it to. That Shujaat’s colleagues were able to bring out the paper in the face of insurmountable grief is a testament to their professionalism and the most fitting tribute to their late boss.”

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 1:41:52 PM |

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