Once again cowardly assassins have proved the might of the pen, of words and of persons who are born to uphold the truth. The dastardly assassination of Shujaat Bukhari, Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir, on June 14 last, underscores that. That along with Bukhari his two Personal Security Officers (PSOs) were also assassinated further accentuates that for some minds and hearts, murder is their only measure to resolve differences and disagreement, and to silence not only the voice of truth but truth itself. As if the voice of truth and sanity can be silenced; as if truth can be murdered! It is unfortunate that that there are minds and hearts that cannot understand, appreciate, digest and respect the fact that there are people, who do have alternative perceptions and perspectives that do not fit into the mainstream narratives on political, economic, social and cultural issues. Shujaat Bukhari was one person, one journalist, who had the ability to look at issues from all dimensions and present his opinions with reason and logic. But those with murder in their hearts do not know and understand reason and logic ~ much less the progressiveness and vision of a person like Shujaat Bukhari, whose assassination has created a huge void in the Fourth Estate in Kashmir, indeed in India also. Bukhari’s voice of sanity had certainly perturbed those who are determined to bleed the beautiful state of Jammu and Kashmir ~ thereby destabilise the country. But today we console ourselves knowing that many more voices of sanity will emerge in India’s northern-most state; we console ourselves in the knowledge that Kashmir’s Fourth Estate is resolute to stand firm to uphold higher the democratic ethos and traditions of free speech and all rights and liberties the Indian Constitution assures to all citizens. We console ourselves knowing that Shujaat Bukhari has contributed much more to the cause of peace with his pen and voice than by all assassins put together. Yes, the loss of Bukhari’s life is irreparable and we will always be brokenhearted but what of the assassins? Of what value are their lives? No, these assassins have not won even a bit of their war against peace ~ in fact they have further strengthened the war for peace by their reprehensible act of cowardice. I had met Shujaat briefly at the Goa Literary Fest in December 2016. I instinctively took a liking to him for his courage of conviction and strength of purpose. Both of us spoke at a penal on the challenges of the Fourth Estate in conflict zones. Needless to say the similarities of both of our accounts were striking, as much as our personal experiences, frustrations and despairs ~ and these emanate not only from the “usual suspects” but also from the very institutions that are entrusted to secure and safeguard the Fourth Estate and indeed all citizens in the country. The very fact that after Bukhari’s assassination Kashmir’s top cop said on the same evening that it was a “terrorist attack” is a mockery of law-enforcement in that state. When unconscionable attacks on and assassinations of journalists occur and law-enforcement agencies try to conveniently categorise them as “terrorist attack” without any detailed investigations, it is so obvious that protection of journalists is not really a priority of those constitutionally entrusted to protect all citizens. Further, when law-enforcers seek to “explain” that attacks on and assassinations of journalists are due to what we have written is adding insult to injury. No attack can be “explained” away by the motive ~ when a crime is committed, the perpetrator must be brought to book. This hardly happens generally but particularly in the instances of attacks on journalists. Consider this ~ Bukhari was kidnapped and almost shot to death in 2006 but Providence intervened and he managed to escape. The Kashmir law-enforcers are yet to explain why the case of a journalist’s abduction and attempted assassination was not pursued to its logical conclusion. True, Bukhari was covered under Police protection but it is enough, especially in conflict zones such as Kashmir ~ where the Fourth Estate is most needed? I had hoped to share many more panels on journalism in conflict zones with Shujaat but this is not to be. The need for more panels on journalism in conflict zones is now all the more imperative ~ in Shujaat’s memory and to pick up and wield his pen.