Kashmir after Article 370: Valley struggles to rid self of uncertainty with communication clampdown, rumours and little faith in administration

As Kashmir Valley was gripped with anxiety over what was to come, last week, conversations at a café in Srinagar revolved around the possible motives behind the seemingly deliberate push behind the panic on the streets. Some suggested it was the clamour for war as was done in the run-up to the airstrikes in Pakistan earlier this year.

There were other rumours as well. Several government orders were being circulated on social media indicating a massive contingency plan being put into motion. The contingency itself was still a matter of speculation but many suggested it was the scrapping of the state’s so-called special status. On its part, senior police officials termed the orders fake and the administration denying any preparations for a possible conflagration.

 Kashmir after Article 370: Valley struggles to rid self of uncertainty with communication clampdown, rumours and little faith in administration

CRPF personnel patrol a street near a mosque before Eid-al-Adha prayers in Jammu on Monday. PTI

Yet the Amarnath Yatra was curtailed and all tourists and pilgrims were forcibly evacuated citing “latest intelligence inputs” of possible “terror attacks” against them. The governor of the state assured unionist politicians that nothing was going to happen, till the end of day on which he gave the assurance.

Meanwhile, after decades of serving at the forefront of fighting the militancy in their home, word on the street suggested that the natives in the police force were being disarmed with the exception of officers and their guards. Outside the café, a prominent college had been turned into a garrison of freshly inducted soldiers that, rumour had it, were flown to contain a possible rebellion by police force if the state’s special status was revoked.

Anything could have been true, all of it could have been false but while the communication systems in Kashmir were still working until Sunday evening, state officials maintained the troop build-up was for recent security threats to pilgrims and tourists. On the last Monday morning, however, the word on the street in Kashmir proved credible while the government was reduced to mere rumour mongers.

Last Monday, Kashmir Valley was turned into an open-air prison as New Delhi unilaterally scrapped the special status that allowed the Muslim-majority state a degree of autonomy. Since then life had come to a grinding halt, only to push itself a little a day before the Eid.

Communication networks, including landlines and internet, have been blocked since last Monday and news channels on cable networks have been restricted to the state-run Doordarshan and two private news channels. Educational institutions have been shut or turned into garrisons, businesses are shuttered and petrol pumps are still non-functional, spools of razor wire and armed soldiers guard roads round the clock while radio stations as if mocking listeners, played advertisements for easy online booking of tickets for the Gondola in Gulmarg.

Currently, more than a hundred thousand paramilitary soldiers are active in the Valley besides hundreds of thousands of troops and security personnel permanently stationed in the region that is already described as the world’s most highly militarised zone. Those in the Valley with satellite televisions remain glued to their TVs to keep updated with the happenings. That, however, has not stopped the spread of rumours in a place that spreads it like wildfire and that now has more reasons than ever to believe them.

Everyday rumours of causalities are floating around. Government officials report that there are rumours of the government’s “acceptable casualty” in containing any protests being put at 1,000 souls. The word in Srinagar is that outsiders in large numbers have been brought in for settlement while journalists have been given unofficial directives to show only “positive stories”.

The administration itself is dodging native journalists, stalling the issuance of curfew passes. As the national press continues to portray a picture of Kashmir that is far from ground reality, some resorting to showing visuals of migrant workers, directed by the government to evacuate, waiting for a bus home as “irrefutable proof” of “normalcy restored”, the crisis of credibility is only further reinforced.

In an era of fake news and specifically in Kashmir, a region reeling under intense alienation and mistrust of the powers that be since decades, the bombardment of information through social media and the subsequent contradictory statement from the administration has led to a crisis of credibility. It is now all the more difficult to sift facts from fiction.

The current blockade of the communication and the hurdles created for local journalists is tantamount to censorship of the levels seen in the post-Independence times when, as reported by Joseph Korbel in Danger in Kashmir, about 218 radio sets installed in Kashmir were tuned into Radio Kashmir and sealed. On 6 August the state-run radio continued wit the programme on Amarnath Yatra while some television channels ran archived footage of Kashmir’s Mughal Gardens and residents speaking of welcoming pilgrims and tourists.

Kashmir had long been demanding political measures to address the prolonged conflict in the state but political measures against the popular aspirations of the people risk eroding the people’s already weak faith in the State and pro-accountability measures taken by the government this year. The disinformation spread by the government has only led to a void that can be easily exploited by inimical forces.

Article 370 had been a bridge between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and India, the people of Kashmir and the political consensus of India, however, stood on either side of that bridge.

Updated Date: Aug 12, 2019 12:15:14 IST