Kreeri: As dawn cracked on Friday morning, Kashmir was wearing an uneasy calm. The sky was draped in clouds and most of the roads were relatively weary except for the Srinagar-Baramulla road.
A string of cavalcades adorned the road even before it was dawn. The rush was heading towards Kreeri, a hamlet in between the green paddy fields and apple orchards, 40 kilometres north-west of Srinagar.
This village in Baramulla district was the ancestral home of Shujaat Bukhari. A renowned editor and journalist, Bukhari, was mercilessly killed by three or four gunmen, pumping bullets into him and two of his security guards on Thursday evening. Two days before Eid, he was coming out of the office after a day of work at Rising Kashmir, the newspaper he edited.
Police have arrested one suspect in connection with the murder who has been identified as Zubair Qadri. He was seen picking up a gun from the spot minutes after Bukhari and his guards were attacked.
The news of his death spread like wildfire, not only in Kashmir but across the globe. Besides being a seasoned editor and reporter, he was engaged in different peace processes, primarily focusing on Kashmir.
That he was a much loved and travelled journalist, was evident from the look of the thousands who had gathered at his funeral. They had come from different regions and diverse backgrounds.
Though Shujaat was settled in Humhama area of Srinagar with his wife and two children, his body was taken for burial to his ancestral village.
“This is the biggest ever funeral we have witnessed,” Irfan Ahmad Bhat, a local told News18.
His funeral is being seen as the representation of what he was as it united people from opposite corners.
“This is a unique funeral,” said a senior journalist. “People from every walk have arrived here, irrespective of their differences. This is unusual in Kashmir.”
The funeral was attended by leaders from the ruling party, including incumbent tourism minister Tasaduq Mufti, who is the brother of CM Mehbooba Mufti, besides other senior members of the Jammu and Kashmir cabinet.
Relatives of Shujaat Bukhari mourn at the funeral ceremony on Friday. (Image: News18)
The leader of opposition, Omar Abdullah was one among the first to arrive in Kreeri. Visibly, distraught and emotional, Omar and his party members stayed with Shujaat’s family for hours.
From top bureaucrats and police officials of the state, many dropped down to attend the funeral.
A bureaucrat broke down while recalling his visit to the same village seven years ago with his friend Shujaat. “Who would have thought that the next visit will be on his funeral,” he exclaimed.
Even members of some separatist groups were also present at the funeral. JKLF Chairman, Yasin Malik attended the last rites and said that he is deeply hurt by the “act of terrorism.”
It was also an uncommon day for journalists and the media industry as a whole while many of Shujaat’s shocked colleagues and contemporaries broke down. Officers and locals were seen consoling them.
“We often attend such funerals, talk to people and write. We try not to get emotional and concentrate on our work. But not today,” said a journalist who has worked with Shujaat for more than six years. “One among us has been killed in barbaric way. We don’t know how to react, it is horrific!”
Assadullah, who is in his eighties helplessly stared at the procession carrying the coffin. “I have seen this boy growing into a man. We were so proud of him,” he told News18.
In Kreeri, the market was shut on Friday morning. No one had slept in the village the previous night. The area was heavily guarded by security forces and the rush of the cars led to hours-long traffic snarls in the hamlet.
Shujaat’s funeral prayers were offered near his ancestral graveyard. As people gathered, it started raining heavily, but no one moved.
So huge was the crowd and traffic, some of his close friends couldn’t make it until he was lowered into the grave.
Some of Shujaat’s journalist friends had even come from Delhi and other cities.
His long-term friend and senior journalist, Iftikhar Geelani, had to walk for more than a mile because of the choked roads. But when he ultimately reached, Shujaat’s grave was filled with soil. The fresh dark layer was visible. Geelani cupped his hands and begun praying.
Militant groups active in Kashmir have denied their hand in the assassination and have even condemned the attack. Police have started investigation and believe that it is the work of militants.
On Friday, as Shujaat’s coffin was lifted from the ground, cries of grief and murmurs of prayers reverberated in the mountains.
Tears rolled down from hundreds of shock-stricken eyes, hands struggled for the last touch of Shujaat’s coffin. Women beat their chests watching the procession move past their house and everyone had just one question to ask: “Who killed Shujaat?”