Veteran journalist and a prominent human rights activist, Padma Bhushan Balraj Puri, died at Government Medical College hospital after a prolonged illness ere on Saturday morning.
He was 86. He is survived his wife, daughter Ellora Puri and son Luv Puri. His cremation will take place at Jogi Gate in Jammu on Sunday.
Born on August 5, 1928, he began his career in journalism as an editor of an Urdu weekly in 1942 and since then, he had been regularly contributing to various local and leading national dailies. He was a multifaceted personality—a political activist, social worker, Human Rights advocate, and a political analyst, writer, author, multi-disciplinary scholar, and a literary critic.
Puri,who was conferred Padma Bhushan for his contribution in the fields of Literature and Education in 2005 and also the Indira Gandhi award for national integration on October 31, 2009, had participated in Quit India Movement against British Raj in 1942 and also supported the Quit Kashmir Movement launched by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah against the Dogra dynasty rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1946.
During 1947 partition when communal violence broke out in the Indian sub-continent, he formed Students Peace Volunteer Corps to check communal riots in Jammu. As a member of the Goodwill Mission appointed by Sheikh Abdullah, he toured the riot-affected areas of Jammu and worked for restoration communal harmony. He was also appointed a member of a relief committee to provide relief to refugees coming to the state from Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
He regularly interacted with India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from 1948 till 1964, mostly on Kashmir affairs. He pleaded for measures to promote inter-regional harmony in Jammu and Kashmir. His formula for Regional Autonomy was accepted by Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah who jointly announced it at a press conference in July 1952. He enjoyed the confidence and goodwill of both of them even after the dismissal and detention of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and tried to reduce their differences inch by inch. He arranged their first meeting in May 1964. However, the final agreement between them was aborted due to sudden death of Pandit Nehru, according to his daughter Ellora Puri.
Puri was also associated with the committee for recovery of Holy Relic which was mysteriously removed from the sacred Shrine of Hazaratbal, Srinagar, in 1963-64. It was on his suggestion, Pandit Nehru had sent Lal Bahadur Shastri to Srinagar to handle the sensitive situation, she pointed out.
Puri attended J&K State Peoples’ Conference in Srinagar in 1968 as the sole representative from Jammu on its steering committee. It unanimously adopted a five-tier internal constitution for the state drafted by him, with regional autonomy and devolution of power to district, block and panchayat levels.
He resumed intermediary role between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Adbullah after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. After a series of talks with both of them, he worked out almost all details for the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord in 1974.
In 1967, he prevented an attack by a Hindu mob on a Muslim locality in Jammu and offered his own life before any Muslim was killed. An attempt to attack him was foiled by some sympathisers in the Hindu mobs. In 1986, Puri was able to stop anti-Sikh riots in Jammu from spreading to some areas by standing literally between two hostile mobs.
Puri has similarly intervened in many communally critical situations in the country, particularly the Punjab and places like Meerut and Aligarh. He was the first person from outside the Kashmir Valley to visit it after outbreak of militancy in 1989, and since then has been constantly monitoring human rights violations both by the security forces and the militants.
He was associated with the Dogri Sanstha in Jammu ever since its formation in 1944. He campaigned for Dogri’s recognition by the Sahitya Academy and by Government of India.
He organised the first Conference of the Gujjars of the State where national leaders of the community were also invited. Indira Gandhi accepted his suggestion to initiate process of recognising Gujjars as a Scheduled Tribe. Similarly, he organised the first conference of the Pahari community and articulated their problems.
He also organised a seminar on 5,000 years of Kashmir, attended by a large number of Kashmiri-speaking intellectuals of both Hindu and Muslim communities in Srinagar on the eve of militancy. Puri has also been campaigning for the recognition of Ladakh as a region, like Jammu and Kashmir in the Constitution of the State.
He was appointed working chairman of Regional Autonomy Committee constituted by Farooq Abdullah government after consulting top experts in various disciplines at the national level and representatives of all communities of the state.
Puri also sponsored social work particularly in rural areas as the president of Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development, J&K State. He as a founder member of Himalayan Seva Sangh also toured a number of Himalayan States and worked with environmentalists like Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt of the Chipko movement.
He has worked on developmental issues as well in Delhi, Rajasthan and Bihar, in association with different organizations like the Centre for Science and Environment and Indian Cooperative Union.
Having written articles on Urdu, Hindi, Dogri and Punjabi literature, he was the founder president of the J&K Anjaman-e-Tarraq-i-Urdu in the state. He had written scholarly papers on subjects of political science, sociology, history and economics and inter-disciplinary subjects like multiculturalism in India, Indo-Pak relations and dimensions of Kashmir problem for academic journals, seminars and lectures at prestigious academic institutions and universities in India and abroad.
Puri was an author and co-author of about 40 books and approximately 1,000 articles for important papers in India and abroad. He has also been examiner of Ph.D students in some universities.
As the Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Mr. Puri has organised many seminars on problems of the State and undertook research studies on behalf of organisations like World Bank, WHO, UNICEF, ICSSR an Institute of Historical Studies.