Saturday was a very difficult day for Kashmir. Though it remains debatable that whatever happened during the day – whether it was planned to be so or it was just a coincidence, but fact of the matter is that developments pushed popular panic to extraordinary heights. The day began with people coming to know about the government crackdown on the separatists and the Jamaat-e-Islami cadres – with the arrest of around 150 people. Next came the reports about 100 odd companies of paramilitary forces – the BSF and ITBP – being deployed in the Valley. As if this was not enough, series of government circulars from different departments further stoked the popular fears about something far serious. All this was more than enough to set the rumour mills running here overtime, with people speculating wildly about different possibilities, from Indo-Pak war to the fears about wellbeing of a separatist leader, and about the revocation of Article-35-A.
By the evening the situation was such that people were thronging ATMs to withdraw as much cash as they could, gas stations saw long queues of customers waiting to get not only the tanks of their vehicles filled bust also the jerry cans they brought along to horde fuel. The grocers found it very hard to deal with the huge crowds of panic buyers trying to replenish the store houses of their homes. Even the chemists and druggists exhausted their stocks as people bought drugs for the ailing fearing that they might not be able to find any in coming days. And amid all this, people were calling their friends and relatives, trying to get some sense of what was happening, and still more importantly, what all was in store. Social media was also agog with all sorts of speculations and wild guesses – panic-struck people sharing their fears without any hitches and hiccups.
In the wake of this panic, the government was expected to say something and come clean on certain things – at least on the fears that were, in the first place, generated by its own circulars, but nothing of the sort happened. So in the absence of any authoritative explanation coming from the official circles, people were pushed to make guesses as to what it meant that the leaves of doctors have been cancelled and that they have been asked to report on duty by Monday. Or that the hospitals were directed to work as trauma centres. Or for that matter the stores and ration depots of the Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs department were asked to distribute and dispense with rations as soon as possible. The overly high concentration of passenger buses outside the Police Control Room – lining up both sides of the road from Fire and Emergency Services headquarters to Jehangir Chowk and even in the interiors of Batamaloo during the day was also an extraordinary thing which added to the confusion.
Day after – on Sunday – the government no doubt finally came up with clarifications explaining some of the developments that took place Saturday, but it is even at its best only ‘too little, too late’, for it can in no way undo the trauma that ordinary people faced here on the preceding day. In a place like Kashmir which has been sitting on the edge in the aftermath of Pulwama suicide attack, the lack of government concern with the public panic bordered on insensitivity and cannot be overlooked, for there are so many potential risks in allowing the rumours to replicate for facts, which any administration is duty-bound to share with the citizenry on such occasions and in such tense situations. The government will have to do some explaining about it, and more than that, also take all those people to task who allowed the situation to go adrift as it went on Saturday.