When Jagan Nath Sathu passed away on January 26, 2005, his many admirers recalled his tenacious commitment to truth and radical humanism.
His achievements may not have been, as they said, tangible in worldly terms, but as a journalist he had lived an ethical life that ought to be an inspiration for every member of this fraternity.
And career-wise, his attainments would be enviable even today – starting out with little more than school education and making it to the New York Times, the London Telegraph, and a host of magazines.
Already frail and physically enfeebled in 1997, he appeared to have lost none of his spirit as he went over the past during an interview in Srinagar.
Sathu was born into a middle-class Pandit family in a remote village in the Batpora area of Shopian, and came to Srinagar for his matriculation examination, after early schooling in his hometown.
He gave up college midway and went to Bombay for a course in local self-governance in 1941. On returning to Srinagar, he joined the Urdu daily Hamdard as its city reporter the next year. The newspaper was then owned an edited by Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz.
It was Sathu’s friend, Shyam Lal Yacha, who had advised him to adopt journalism as his profession.
Sathu vividly remembers his first exciting journalistic outing when he interviewed Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Srinagar in 1944:
“I felt very nervous. I was only 20 then and it was a very big assignment,” he says.
Jinnah asked him why Kashmiri Pandits were reluctant to join their Muslim brethren in their fight against autocratic rule.
Sathu told him about the fears of his community:
“They have the impression that they will suffer politically, socially and economically under Muslim rule.”
On hearing his reply, the Quaid jumped from his chair:
“Yes boy, if they have such fears they are right, because we Musalmans in India share the same fears viz-a-viz the majority community.”
Jinnah promised to take every step to impress upon the majority community to be fair to the minorities.
“People like P N Bazaz and others can bring the Kashmiri Pandits into mainstream politics and activate them to fight against the autocratic rule,” he said.
The Quaid talked about Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh and other political issues.
When the interview was over, Sathu’s nervousness was also gone. The Quaid had behaved like a friend.
Sathu’s coverage of Jinnah’s public address at the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar reflected his professionalism.
“There were more than one lakh people waiting for Jinnah,” he recalls. “We went there at 9 p.m. to cover the rally but Jinnah turned up around 2.30 a.m. and ended his speech at 3.45 a.m.
“Notwithstanding the delay, the speech appeared in the Hamdard the next morning. Everybody, including the Quaid, was impressed.”
The report was a landmark achievement in the journalistic history of Kashmir, considering the tools available then.
Soon after this, Sathu had an encounter with Kashmir’s Prime Minister, B N Rao, who later became India’s representative at the UN.
Rao asked him what the “pressing political problems” of Kashmir were.
Sathu said that the Kashmiris wanted self rule.
“And, what do they mean by self-rule,” Rao asked.
“By self-rule they mean the end of Maharaja’s autocratic rule.”
This somehow got published.
“The government took serious note of it,” Sathu recalls. “But it could not impose restrictions on the Hamdard as senior journalists including Gaash Lal Koul, Munshi Me’raj-ud-Din and Allah Rakha Sagar resisted.”
When Sheikh Abdullah assumed power in 1947, the Hamdard was subjected to censorship which was strictly enforced after the war.
Prem Nath Bazaz was arrested on October 21, 1947, and later exiled. From 1947 to 1950 it was Sathu who ran the newspaper.
-to be continued