A valiant scribe

Jagan Nath Sathu fought the autocratic Dogra rule valiantly with his pen. Unlike others, he believed Kashmir did not get freedom in 1947.  His community hated him for his political stand and the Muslims never accepted him. But the physically fragile person kept the vein of conscience alive in him.  At 83 was a store-house of memories.

Born in an average middle class Pandit family at a remote village in Batpora, Shopian, Sathu achieved what his contemporaries could not even dream of. Starting as an ordinary journalist in Srinagar, he made it to the London based Telegraph and New York Times.

After his schooling at Shopian, Sathu moved to Srinagar and passed his matriculation.  He gave up college mid-way and went to Bombay to do a course in local self governance in 1941. Back in Srinagar, Sathu joined Urdu daily ‘Hamdard’ in 1942 as its city reporter. Hamdard, at that time, was owned and edited by Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz. According to Sathu, his friend Sham Lal Yacha, advised him to join the second oldest profession.

Sathu vividly remembered his first exciting journalistic outing when he interviewed Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1944 at Srinagar. “I felt very nervous. I was only 20 then and it was a very big assignment.”

Quaid asked him why Kashmiri Pundits were reluctant to join their Muslim brethren in their fight against the autocratic rule. He told the Quaid about the fears of his community. “They have the impression that they will suffer politically, socially and economically under the Muslim rule.” On hearing Sathu’s reply, the Quaid jumped from his chair saying, “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.”

Giving details of the event, he said, “There were more than one lakh people waiting for Jinnah. We went there at 9 pm to cover the rally but Jinnah turned up around 2.30 am and ended his speech at 3.45 am. Notwithstanding the delay, the speech appeared in the Hamdard next morning. Every body, including the Quaid, was impressed.” The report was a landmark achievement in journalistic history of Kashmir considering the tools available then.

Immediately after this event, Sathu had an encounter with the Prime Minister B N Rao, who later became India’s representative at the UN. During his interaction with Sathu, Rao asked him what “were the pressing political problems of Kashmir”. Sathu said the Kashmiris wanted Self Rule. “And, what do they mean by self-rule,” he questioned. Sathu boldy said, “By self-rule they mean the end of Maharaja’s autocratic rule.” This somehow got published. The government took a serious note of it, however, it could not impose restrictions on Hamdard as senior journalists including Gash Lal Koul, Munshi Mairaj-ud-Din and Allah Rakha Sagar resisted.”

When Sheikh Abdullah assumed power in 1947, Hamdard was subjected to censorship. The censorship was strictly enforced after the 1947 war. Prem Nath Bazaz was arrested on October 21, 1947. Later, he was exiled. During this period (1947-50) Sathu ran the Hamdard same year, the Hamdard published Sir Zaffarullah Khan’s speech at the UN. It created a storm in the Valley. Sathu narrated, “Sheikh Abdullah was the emergency administrator. Shayam Lal Want, a close aide of Sheikh Abdullah, beat up a Hamdard hawker and threatened him to stop selling the newspaper or face dire consequences.”

Next day the Hamdard carried the incident and Sathu wrote a letter to Sheikh Abdullah. The letter read, “If the government is determined to suppress and muzzle the press as is evident from the attitude of Shyanm Lal Want, I can assure you we will resist to our last breath.”

There was some more trouble with the government. Ultimately the newspaper was closed down. In 1950, Sathu too was exiled. He went to New Delhi and stayed with Prem Nath Bazaz. Meanwhile, he formed the Democratic Kashmir Union in cooperation with Sham Lal Yacha, Aalam Sartaj and Comrade Noor Muhammad. They had also launched a journal, Voice of Kashmir, and Sathu became a part of it. In 1955, he was arrested in connection with Jamia Masjid (Delhi) bomb blast. For twenty days he was severely tortured in police custody and then sent to District Jail, Mathura Road, Delhi. “I didn’t mind at all the torture I was subjected to because I knew I own certain political views and had to suffer for them. However, I was not involved in the bomb blast,” he said.  Later, the charges were withdrawn.

Soon after, Sathu became the special correspondent of The Dawn published from Karachi. His association with the newspaper could not go beyond one year because he was rearrested and detained for his “objectionable” write-ups.
Sathu soon got associated with the Civil and Military Gazette. Rudyard Kipling founded it and Winston Churchil was on its editorial board. He moved to Srinagar and wrote for a weekly Thought. However, he was without a permanent job. He some how came across a man, Rawle Knocks, from London-based Telegraph. Rawle was impressed by Sathu’s hard work and dedication. One day when he was covering Political Conference’s Satyagrah, Rawle informed him about his appointment in the Telegraph. Sathu worked for The Telegraph for more than 30 years and dominated the Fleet Street, London with stories on Siachen.

Sathu was a great admirer of Prem Nath Bazaz and like him believed and worked for the creation of Independent Kashmir. “No, Prem Nath Bazaz did not persuade Sheikh Abdullah to convert Muslim Conference into National Conference. Those who say so were prostrating before their Delhi lords when Bazaz was suffering in a Delhi prison,” he said.

Sathu’s opinion about Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah: “He was a person of wavering views. When, the Delhi Bureau of New York Times asked Sheikh about his views on Kashmir solution, he replied that the ceasefire line should be converted into international border. This, according to him, could solve the problem. But after sometime, while addressing a gathering of Sikhs in Jammu, he asked them to pull out their swords and bring back Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK).”

Sathu passed away on January 26, 2005 at New Delhi after prolonged illness. He was 83.

 (I had the honour of interviewing JN Sathu at Srinagar on July 4, 1997)
Feedback at din.zahir@gmail.com