When Rumours Rule the Roost, it’s the People Who Suffer!
Uncertainty irks the human mind and the voracious urge to reinforce our premonitions gives rise to rumours. And when rumours assuage our curiosity, we start believing them even if they are illogical or lack any substance. Thus, to those who point out that Kashmiris are particularly vulnerable when it comes to believing rumours, I would like to pose a counter-question; which community isn’t? Yet, I do concede that we may be a bit more susceptible on this accountand there is a reason for this. In Kashmir, rumours have mostly been used as a ‘weapon’ by both the separatist camp and the government to badmouth each other and thus both sides take extra care to make sure that the same are (emotionally, if not factually), more convincing.
Many may not know it, but three decades ago when militancy erupted in Kashmir, widespread reports of ‘Bhooth’ (ghost) sightings at night spread immense fear amongst the people. Though there were several such complaints, but comparison of the accounts given by witnesses showed no similarity, either in the description of the apparition that they had seen or in their experience. Yet, due to the absence of any rebuttal from the authorities, people started believing rumours that government agencies were posing as ghosts to terrify locals. However, though this was a wild allegation in every sense, but instead of trying to reason as to what would the ‘agencies’ achieve by indulging in such a childish prank, the weird explanation that the government was doing this because of its anti-Kashmiri attitude was widely accepted by the people!
We once again saw the immense power of rumours in September 2017, when the first case of ‘braid chopping’ was reported from Kashmir valley. Rather than pacifying the irate and terrified public, those who claim to be true representatives and well-wishers of Kashmiri people preferred to cash on the same, but they weren’t the only ones. This incident came as a windfall for each and every person, group or organisation having an anti-government agenda. And even though reputed psychologists explained that incidents of braid chopping were due to a mental medical condition called “mass hysteria,” no one who was in a position to influence public thinking cared to educate the masses.Instead everyone used braid chopping to score a point!
National Conference organised a rally led by its party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar who said, “The government knows who the real culprits are but still continues to maintain silence on this conspiracy. The government has failed miserably to ensure protection of our mothers, sisters and daughters.” However, despite its specific accusation, the NC never came up with any evidence to support this allegation. Similarly, senior Congress leader and former Parliamentarian Tariq Hamid Karra went as far as terming braid-chopping incidents as “State-sponsored mental terrorism” but failed to provide any proof. Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Jammu and Kashmir termed braid chopping as “part of deep-rooted conspiracy” but like all others, gave no details of how it came to this conclusion, or who the ‘conspirators’ were.
The separatists too jumped in with Hurriyat issuing the statement that “India is frightened with the commitment (that) people have shown towards the freedom movement. That is why to divert the attention of people, women are being now targeted.” Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani also hit out by saying, “Who else, if not the Indian intelligence and the security agencies, can do these conspiracies,” and justified his allegation by claiming that “It is a well-thought-out conspiracy to weaken the fight of the Kashmiri people.” Like mainstream political parties, the Hurriyat too made much noise and even held protests but failed to furnish any evidence to support its accusations.
Even militant groups joined in the chorus. The only person who came out with a reasonable explanation was Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Riyaz Naikoo. His view that since “(security) agencies know that now when mujahideen enter people’s homes at night, (due to) the (fear of a braid chopper knocking at their door) people will raise a cry out of fear, exposing the mujahideen” is believable. Even if we accept that he had no ulterior motive while saying that “You all know that hair of our mothers and sisters being cut is an Indian conspiracy involving (security) forces and senior officers of the police, the RSS, and the government, ”but by adding that “Their aim is enmity with Islam and Kashmir,” he unwittingly revealed that just like mainstream political parties and the separatist conglomerate, he too was pursuing a motivated and communally charged agenda.
Returning back to the present, the government order cancelling Amarnath yatra, advisory asking tourists to leave Kashmir and reported induction of additional forces in Kashmir has the made the local rumour mill active once again. And with numerous versions of various possibilities ranging from abrogation of Article 370 and 35 (a), trifurcation J&K to even going to war with Pakistan, the ordinary Kashmiri is caught between the devil and deep sea. Resultantly, there is panic buying to accumulate essentials and this has come as a bonanza for unscrupulous elements who are openly indulging in black-marketing of not only basic necessities but also charging exorbitant prices for essential items like baby food and critical medicines.
It’s during such times that one is confronted with the question of whether it’s morally right for those leading the mass movement in Kashmir struggle from the safe environs of their palatial houses to keep the public ignorant of facts or giving them misleading suggestions? For those who claim to be “true representatives” of Kashmiris, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to concentrate on ensuring public awareness of the realities rather than fishing in troubled waters and deceiving their own people by feeding them with opinionated views just to derive political mileage?
The writer is a Delhi based columnist and can be mailed at email@example.com