Women protest in Soura, Downtown Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on 11th August, 2019 | Photo: Praveen Jain
Women protest in Soura, Downtown Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir on 11 August, 2019 | Photo: Praveen Jain
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In Kashmir, it is hard to find the “truth”. Anthropologically speaking, conflict societies are prone to exaggeration and conspiracy theories triggered by fear. But having been to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, I find the level of diversion and exaggeration in Kashmir to be astounding. Rumours here take hold quickly and spread like wildfire.

So, I went to Kashmir and asked people what TV channels they watch. Invariably, the reply was, “We don’t trust Indian channels… they all lie. We only watch Al Jazeera, NDTV and sometimes RT.” When I asked the residents, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and CRPF personnel about the BBC and Al Jazeera’s footage of the Soura clashes, most of them responded with added stories of massive protests, none of which I could personally verify.

What I could, however, verify from all sources was that clashes between the protesters and the security forces, as reported by the BBC and Al Jazeera, did take place in Srinagar’s Soura on 10 August. But there’s a deeply disturbing and confusing story of their genesis.


Also read: I went to meet pellet gun victims in Soura, the new epicentre of Kashmir’s anger


Flummoxed police, CRPF

The first problem is that the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) still don’t how the incident was triggered. In Srinagar’s Soura, there are troops present every 100 metres, including in the narrow bylanes I went into. As I travelled through the streets, I kept wondering how easily the troops would have reported the protest or any gathering of more than 10-15 people the moment it had happened. And yet this was not done; the why remains a mystery.

It turns out, the CRPF personnel were not aware of the protests until their spotters on the ground started “reporting crowds of over 2,000, which had gone up to around 6,000 by the time we arrived”. Several security men insist that the footage taken from different angles and different cameras were in fact “security camera footage” (Jenab Sahib mosque area) and those taken by security videographers (Ganderbal Road). They did in fact show me the angles and locations that at least two sequences in the spliced videos were shot from.

But curiously, the Narendra Modi government denied the occurrence of Soura riots at first. It later admitted to the clashes and even to the use of pellet guns.

This is where the local constables and jawans don’t get three things:

1. How did the security camera footage find its way into the hands of the foreign press?

2. Who sent the media advisory from Kashmir to the Centre to outrightly deny the Soura riots?

3. Who in the Centre approved this lie, allowing it to become the official line despite knowing that camera footage existed?


Also read: Bakarwal nomads return to the plains as business dries up due to Kashmir shutdown


Planned sabotage?

Like all rumour-based societies, the rather disturbing story is that there was some kind of collusion with a deliberate intent to sabotage – the crowd of protesters wasn’t detected at an early stage; it had successfully managed to coordinate without WhatsApp or SMS (mobile internet services in Kashmir continue to be restricted); if the protesters were congregated through loudspeakers, why were the calls not heard and responded to the gathering was allowed to grow; the security camera footage was leaked; a recommendation was made to lie about it; and a central directive followed that maintained this lie.

Another thing that the local constables and jawans confirmed was that they did not use live rounds, but did use lots of teargas and limited pellets. Almost everyone found it bewildering why the Modi government couldn’t have simply stuck to the truth about police action against a murderous and violent crowd, which they believed “would have done us harm”.

This is definitely something that Home Minister Amit Shah, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to ponder over.


Also read: How doctors in Kashmir are dealing with lockdown — with anti-anxiety pills & generosity


No shortage of medicine

The other major rumour was of medicine shortage. All four hospitals that I visited – Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, Lal Ded Hospital and Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital – confirmed there were no shortages. Even doctors who had no love lost for India said the same thing in private, one on one conversations.

At Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, in Soura, Srinagar, Kashmir | Photo: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra | ThePrint

Which bring us to the second part of the story and the “two Wall Street Journal women” who reported on the security clampdown in Kashmir. It turns out that both of them had stayed in the same hotel as me, and the staff there said that the hospital opposite to them had been functioning to full capacity the entire time. I have photographic evidence to confirm this.

Moreover, the staff at SKIMS, SMHS, Lal Ded and GB Pant hospitals, in one on one discussions with me, confirmed that they had developed procedures to ensure excellent stocking given the shutdowns that had happened in 2010 (alleged fake encounter killings of three civilians), 2014 (floods), 2016 (Burhan Wani). The independent chemist shops, on the other hand, said they did not have a few medicines but told me to ask for them in other nearby shops, assuring me I would get the medicines there.

To sum up, clashes in Soura did take place, but both Al Jazeera and BBC were fed spliced security camera footage from within, and this was compounded by a clumsy PR plan of the Modi government. The Wall Street Journal’s story on empty hospitals and a medical crisis, on the other hand, are complete fabrication and lead one to question if the two journalists were deliberately twisting facts or were being fed by their stringers. 

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal. 

This is the second part of a series by the author based on his recent Kashmir visit. Read the first part here.

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22 Comments Share Your Views

22 COMMENTS

  1. Western media is enemy.
    The govt should stick to facts on a need to know basis without obfuscation. Think they have good run of policy by poK recapture this fall.

  2. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/news.sky.com/story/amp/bbc-naga-munchetty-had-the-right-to-speak-out-about-trump-racism-11821170

    It stated: “You will have heard a lot of comment over the past few days about the BBC and the reporting of racism.

    “The BBC is not impartial on racism. Racism is not an opinion and it is not a matter for debate. Racism is racism.

    “Naga Munchetty – one of our stars – was completely within her rights to speak about the tweets of Donald Trump which have been widely condemned as racist.”

  3. This post is only based on iyrers conjectures and theories..was he present when protests took place, why is hell bent on proving there were no protests and everything is hunky dory..then why not govt just remove the clampdowns….
    This piece is just a desperate and cheap rebuttal of credible media liek bcc wsj and has nothing new or breaking news to offer

  4. It going to be like post emergency revelations as and when things turn normal. Many major players of emergency including Lt Governor, wife and son and many others turned saffron. So much of party which claim chal, Charitra, Chera. Leave media coverage, when rest of India would be in festive mood next few months, how can they be left out when it is claimed GOI it is now fully integrated with India. The move on Kashmir is purely political and wants to use it to the tilt and also make sure either BJP or its Puppet find its foothold in Valley so it is going to be long haul and pray that I am proved wrong

  5. Modi govt or any other govt hardly has a hold on Kashmir, loyality of even the local police can be questioned when it comes down to individuals.
    But atleast its a start as opposed to repeating the same thing and expecting different results

  6. The columnist might wish to read the Report submitted by five respected women who visited Kashmir recently and have a somewhat more noir version of what is happening. He could then declutter Kashmir for the rest of us ignorant folk.

  7. Al Jazeera one is not familiar with, but I would bet my shirt on the BBC being truthful. We have got too accustomed to playing the domestic media like a harp to consider that there are globally respected media entities that value their credibility. Easy enough to create a self sustaining news loop on the channels, suggesting that everyone is out to fix us, they are biased, no one believes them anyway. Viewed objectively, one is not sure how well the rest of the world is buying into our Kashmir story.

    • The fact that the videos were spliced and they never released the raw footage suggests it was clearly produced for propaganda purposes. Having lived through syrian and libyan civil war, our generation knows quite well how this goes and the role that aljazeera or even western press play in it. The best account of the kind of blindness to complexity in western press was given by Patrick Cockburn , the journalist for The Independent in UK. He wrote several columns on the way Syrian ‘rebels ‘ were projected in press as democracy activists despite large number of jihadists being a part of the fighters and even some early demonstrators. Also, the absurd ways in which there were only civilians being bombed in Aleppo by Russia, not a single video would show any of the kalashnikov carrying fighters. But just across the border in Mosul only ISIS was being killed in american and allied bombings. Turkey was allowed to get away with supplying arms to ISIS and even now continues to threaten Kurdish territory in Syria. Any one who has been alive and followed world media over the past decade will take their word on any conflict situation with a bucket of salt.

    • Clearly you haven’t read BBC Wikipedia page, from racism, sexism to classism, there is dedicated page for it.
      It may not be in the league of Al Jazeera or fox, but they are not too far behind.

    • (1) Who is refuting that conditions are normal in Kashmir? No one. GOI is only saying that there is no widespread violence and death; (2) you will bet your shirt but may lose it because there are several occasions when BBC has been cited as being incorrect and has apologised. One example:

      “Throughout the campaign preceding the Scottish independence referendum held on 18 September 2014, there were accusations claiming that the BBC was neither neutral nor impartial. On 14 September 2014 thousands of protesters demonstrated outside BBC Scotland’s headquarters in Glasgow accusing the corporation and its political editor Nick Robinson of broadcasting “lies” and of being “biased” against the Yes Scotland campaign.[201] The demonstrators demanded that Robinson be dismissed.[202] The ‘Yes’ campaign was not itself involved in the demonstration. The protestors also later complained that coverage about the demonstration was not broadcast by the BBC.[203]” – Wikipedia (fully supported with citations).

      The problem with ashok is that he is sitting in a room, and perhaps never been to any Western country for more than a couple of weeks as a tourist, has no access to their newspapers and broadcast media, and yet keeps issuing his “gold standard” certificate. He is certainly smitten by Western media, and sees the West through rose-tinted glasses. He talks about Singapore, where perhaps his kin live, as a heaven on earth without understanding how Singapore became a developed nation. He is always eulogising China without a comment on their political system. Be NOT a frog in the well, and get rid of your inferiority complex ashok JI.

      Finally coming back to the moot point: do you really believe that GOI is not weighing the risks of removing the curfew? And does your sensible, ever wise brain really believe that GOI intends to keep Kashmir in perpetual lockdown? Well, talking of Pakistan’s nefarious designs is useless with a person like you because of your history of comments on our neighbours.

      • If one goes back a few years, there have been instances when BBC has passed on footage from Lebanon (when the conflict was at its peak) as Kashmir and issues a public apology only after being proved that they had lied. So much for journalistic ethics

        • If your comments are not countered, you, acting as a wise, know-all, will keep peddling substandard comments influencing those who may not be as aware. I counter your comments in National Interest.

      • From Third World to First : The Singapore Story : 1965 – 2000. By PM LKY, one of my Asian heroes, along with Paramount Leader Deng. Zaroor padhiye. Aapke The Economist se bhi achhi, lekin hamare Print se nahin …

        • Mr. – it is not just important to mention the book but also know the political methods that were employed in taking that leap. It was definitely not bi-partisan, and often compromised liberal values to give push to reforms.

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