The Rumour Mill!

kashmir peace

(The events of last few years have affected the Valley people psychologically so much that any rumour sells and puts the inhabitants on the edge!)

Kashmiris are traditionally given to rumour mongering and then believing in rumours without any attempt to verify these! During recent years of turmoil the rumours have had a free flow in Kashmir. Many a times these result in very piquant situations. In earlier times many rumours used to emanate from Zaina Kadal, an important bridge on the River Jhelum in the heart of Srinagar. Khabar-i-Zaina Kadal, news from Zaina Kadal is a very well-known epithet about rumours circulating in the city. It said that some time back a scholar had come from abroad and he wanted to test the psychological attributes of Kashmiris before preaching his philosophy. He floated a rumour that “it has happened” at Zaina Kadal. The entire city rushed towards Zaina Kadal and waited for the scholar to disclose what had happened. When all had gathered, he announced in the evening “a spit had been thrown in the River”!

Kashmiris are by nature very inquisitive and always try to find out basis of any happening anywhere. This process gives rise to many rumours. Interestingly, the most popular jaunt for spread of all rumours and exchange of news is the baker’s shop in the morning. Kashmiris are fond of eating freshly baked bread in the morning with the traditional salt tea. The baker starts making the bread from very early in the morning sometimes right from six o’clock or so. The people have to wait for their turn to collect the bread. This is the time for exchange of news. The discussions at the bakers shop are very lively and interesting. If news or a rumour is to be circulated throughout the valley, the ideal place is the baker’s shop. The people listen to the stories given out at the shop and then on their return circulate it among relatives and friends through mobile phones and these days through social media!

Recently, the rumour mill had a full run. It was churning at full speed and a lot of panic was created everywhere. The main cause was the induction of 100 additional companies of the Central Reserve Police Force. This had followed the gruesome event of the suicide bombing of a CRPF convoy in which 50 soldiers had been killed. Simultaneously, a large number of arrests of members of the Islamic organisations and pro-freedom partiesincluding Yasin Malik, the head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front were made. Border Security Force replaced CRPF in guarding vital installations. A large number of new bunkers were made at different vintage points including on bridges, crossings and so on.

Before the suicide attack, there was another topic which was giving full throttle to the rumour mill. That was the controversy about Article 35-A which gives special status to the State of J & K in the Indian Union. This special status granted to J & K under the Constitutionvide article 370 and 35-A has been under challenge in the Supreme Court of India through a Public Interest Litigation. The BJP had declared that they will abolish these articles in order to fully integrate the state of J & K into the Indian Union. The Court has been hearing the petition off and on. No final verdict has come so far. The induction of additional force w3as accompanied by directions for alerting Medical and Civil supplies Departments for clearing stocks of provisions and putting all hospitals on alert. People got so panicky that everyone was rushing to stock supplies. The State Governor denied that anything is being done to Article 35-A. According to him this can only be done with the concurrence of an elected assembly. Interestingly, the Dogras of Jammu forming part of BJP seem to be keener for abolishing the special status. It is an irony that the special status comprising the State Subject Law was enacted by the erstwhile Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927. He did not do it for Kashmiri Muslims! He loved all his state subjects and was scared that due to their poverty they will face the onslaught of the rich from the mainland and get displaced. It is not against anybody but a safeguard for the residents of J & K State from exploitation by outsiders. Even Dogras if they get fully assimilated in the mainland will surely lose their unique identity!

Well, the actual reason for this virtual “Red Alert” came to be known only on Tuesday, the 26th February morning when announcement was made that the Indian Airforce had crossed the Line of Control to destroy some militant training camps! At the time of writing, one is waiting for the Pakistani response. Let us hope good sense prevails and there is no escalation which would be disastrous not only for the State and the Sub-Continent but entire South Asia and the rest of the world!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) (Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)


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