As the winter recedes in the Kashmir valley, security forces have considerably increased the pressure on militants through a surge in anti-militancy operations, particularly in South Kashmir. As per media reports, in the last one month, forces have killed 11 militants in seven encounters across the Valley.
As these operations pick up pace, a curious rumour is doing the rounds in the Valley. Rumour has it that the LED bulbs distributed by the government in the state, under the Ujala scheme are being used to keep a tab on the militant movements in the Valley. Scores of people have claimed that the LED bulbs have been fitted with surveillance cameras, or chips, which are being used to spy on people.
The Ujala scheme was implemented in the state by the Power Development Department in collaboration with the Union Power Ministry and the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL). These LED bulbs were made available at a subsidised rate of Rs 20, as against the market price of close to Rs 250.
Howsoever ridiculous the rumour and the claim may appear to be, many Kashmiris in fact seriously believe that the Indian government has distributed these bulbs just to keep a watch on the activities of Kashmiris.
The sudden increase in anti-militancy operations, which had witnessed a lull post the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, has been attributed to the information 'gathered' with the help of these LED bulbs. The rumour-cum-news went viral on social media a day after the encounter ended in Hafoo area of Tral, in which two militants were killed on 5 March.
Since then, many people across the Valley, especially from South Kashmir, have taken to social media, claiming that an engineering student from Tral of Pulwama district has discovered a 'spy chip' inside the bulb. However, no one has named him.
A video that has surfaced on social media purportedly showing opening a LED bulb to reveal the ‘spy chip’ inside, has since gone viral on Facebook. The unidentified man can be heard saying, “We have an engineer with us. He will show you which chip is fixed in this bulb”. Then he takes out a small part of it, “This is the sensor and it transmits whatever we do in our home to the control room.” The man then warns people against using these LED bulbs. Firstpost has not been able to verify the authenticity of this video.
The authenticity of the claim notwithstanding, the video has fetched 224,000 views and counting, more than 7500 shares, which shows how rumours spread like a wildfire in the Valley. Many Kashmiris, however, have mocked it, terming it as a "non-sense"
“I myself am an engineer and that too from the same trade. This video is totally insane. Yeah, it is possible to make a surveillance bulb, but not like the one shown in the video. We need a transmitter, a camera and a running circuit for that. This circuit, that is shown in this video, is a simple circuit required to light the LED bulb. Its the kind of circuit that prevents the LED from diffusing and provides a stabilised current,” reads one of the comments on the video.
However, as in the past, the government has been slow to respond to the rumours. Almost four days later, the government on 9 March dismissed the reports about the LED bulb, saying that the Ujala scheme was not Kashmir-centric but pan-India.
"There is absolutely no truth in these reports that surveillance cameras have been fitted inside the LED bulbs. This is not just a Kashmir-centric scheme,” Hashmat Qazi, Nodal Officer for Demand Side Management of the Uajala scheme, told PTI.
Rumours are not new to Kashmir. In January last year, hospitals in Kashmir witnessed an abnormal rush of people due to a rumour that the polio vaccine administered in the state had fatal side-effects. The worried parents made a beeline rush to the hospitals, carrying their kids, creating chaos everywhere.
Spiralling traffic jams were seen across the Valley that day, with intense arguments being witnessed in the hospitals between parents and the medical staff. Interestingly, these rumours were confined to the Valley. The same rumour about the polio vaccine drew a less than hysterical reaction in the Jammu region.
In another such instance, after the devastating floods of 2014, rumours of a massive earthquake likely to hit Kashmir created panic among the locals. Social media was abuzz with people raising concerns and seeking 'divine intervention'. However, many rubbished these reports, terming them as a handiwork of mischievous elements to terrify the locals.
Basharat Ahmad from Anantnag district believes that these kinds of rumours are common in Kashmir. "It has been there since the early 1990s. Rumours about ghosts were common in the Valley those days," Ahmad told Firstpost, adding that those 'ghosts' turned out to be the soldiers on night patrol.
He believes that due to social media, these rumours are now spreading swiftly. "I laugh at these rumour mongers. Either they are idiots who need counselling or miscreants who need to be dealt with harshly," Ahmad said.
A senior police officer from South Kashmir, while talking to Firstpost, said, "It's their own choice to suspect their household items, until it's not a law and order problem. I think spreading rumours have become part of our culture now."
He also said that police will take action if such rumours create public outcry or law and order problem. "In case of the polio vaccine rumour last year, it was dangerous and had created chaos, therefore police had acted upon that," he said.
In the current LED bulb rumour, what adds to the people’s apprehensions is the recent increase in encounters between the security forces and militants. The timing of the launch of Ujala scheme in the Valley has also added fuel to the fire. The scheme was co-incidentally launched in September last year when the Valley was under siege after Wani’s killing.
However many in Kashmir believe that people have been cynical about the government’s intentions for a long time now.
"It’s not about the 'spy chips' being fitted into the Ujala distributed LEDs, but it’s a question about how Kashmiris remain sceptical about India and its policies," Javid Wani, a teacher by profession from Anantnag district told Firstpost.
However, when asked about these rumours spreading in the Valley, he said that people need to be aware. "Unlike other states, Kashmir is more vulnerable to rumours," Wani said.
And that perhaps points to a deeper malaise within the Kashmiri society, where decades of conflict and 'disinformation campaigns' has taken a toll on people's psyche, creating trust issues not only between the locals but also between the Indian government and security forces.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. He focuses on socio-political issues of Kashmir.
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Updated Date: Mar 10, 2017 19:05:00 IST