Aasha Khosa writes
My dearest husband, friend and colleague George Joseph passed away on February 27. While our daughter and I are in deep mourning, I feel compelled to narrate the story of an extraordinary journalist, with whom I shared my life with for 21 years. George had risked his life to uphold professional values. His reporting from Kashmir during the most turbulent years of militancy gave glory to the the profession of journalism; even today it is testimony to the importance of a journalist’s role in a conflict situation.
George Joseph arrived in Srinagar in the autumn of 1989 to the deathly sound of Kalashnikovs in a situation that was to soon to turn into a full-fledged insurgency. The pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen was rising as a gang of ruthless killers. The Hizb had nearly wiped out the ideologically moderate Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). In Srinagar, the word “India” was anathema to the proponents of the so-called (freedom) movement. “Hindustanikutta”(Indian dog) was the choicest abuse. However, in surcharged and communally polarised Kashmir, George’s religion and his South Indian ethnicity were seen as a neutral factor by militant supporters.
George reported extensively on the dramatic news events of that time. Be it Rubaiya Sayeed’s abduction or the Gaw Kadal massacre, he was out there covering it. In February, Lassa Kaul, Director, Doordarshan Kendra, was killed. George was shocked to realise the complicity of the people around him. “There is treachery in everything around us,” he would say later. He was aghast that no Kashmiri priest came forward to perform Kaul’s last rites. It was eventually done by an army priest. A month later, militants had killed P.L. Handoo, an assistant director in the Information Department.
That was when Governor Jagmohan advised three journalists working for national dailies — Hindustan Times, Indian Express and Times of India — to leave the Valley as he feared they would be the next targets. Overnight they had to leave for Jammu. However, George defied Jagmohan’s diktat. He returned to Srinagar, much to the dislike of those in power and even some of his colleagues.
Series of abductions
After our marriage in February 1991, I shifted to Srinagar, from where I worked for the Tribune. During our first summer, there were a number of abductions: Indian Oil executive K. Doraiswamy, Bihar MLA S.P. Sinha, REC Principal R.L. Wakhloo are some of those that I remember spent months as captives of militants. One day, militants deposited a human finger in the PTI office, which was next to George’s. That day we could feel the danger around us. If it was a finger today, tomorrow it could be a severed head.
A year later, on a cold March afternoon, we received a call from the Hizbul Mujahideen spokesperson. The caller told George that the Hizb had split. The Hizb leader, Master Ahsan Dar, had been charged with embezzlement of funds and expelled after a brief imprisonment by his own cronies. George asked him to provide proof. The caller told us that the Hizb had issued a formal press release to the local media about it a day before. However, on the advice of their Pakistani handlers, they had instructed the media to black out the news. The caller arranged to drop the original handout in our letter box. The Hizbul Mujahideen split was the turning point in the history of the insurgency, and George and I were the only ones to report it.