These exaggerations by the state come in a vacuum created in the last week by the dwindling reportage on Kashmir in the mainstream print media.
On Wednesday, the Delhi Police filed an FIR against Kashmiri (and one-time JNU) activist Shehla Rashid on a local lawyer’s complaint against her for sedition. She had tweeted rumours that the Army had tortured four boys in Shopian in south Kashmir. The Army denied it as baseless. Briefing select domestic and foreign journalists on Saturday, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval also denied it disingenuously: he said it was not the Army but the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police that was maintaining law and order in the Valley. Ms Rashid was guilty of hyperbole as less than a handful of Kashmiris have died during police action on protests after the August 5 announcement to end Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy; these have been collateral deaths, like the Noorabad boy who jumped off a bridge when the crowd he was in was chased by the forces, or the middle-aged man who died of suffocation when caught between tear gas canisters shot at Srinagar’s Eidgah. But Ms Rashid was not exaggerating the larger clampdown and crackdown on Kashmiri society.
Yet this clampdown is being used as a basis for a greater exaggeration, made by Mr Doval, that a majority of Kashmiris supported the abrogation of Article 370 (the Constitutional guarantor of autonomy). It is like the greater exaggeration implied in the statement that not a single bullet has been fired — pellets have been shot at thousands of protestors, of whom hundreds have been treated in government hospitals. Or the greater exaggeration that all is ostensibly well because most telephone landlines have been restored when what matters to 99 per cent of the population is the continuing suspension of mobile telephony. These exaggerations by the state come in a vacuum created in the last week by the dwindling reportage on Kashmir in the mainstream print media. Given the government’s penchant to tightly control what the supposedly free media covers and publishes, perhaps this sudden drying up of news reports is a coincidence. No wonder, then, that in an absence of ground reports, rumour passes for fact among individuals like Ms Rashid.
But what she tweeted was nowhere as damaging as the BBC’s reportage of the August 9 demonstration at Soura in Srinagar, in which around 10,000 participated and many were injured in the consequent police action to break up the demonstration. Or the torrent of reports and commentary in the New York Times that is unflattering to New Delhi. These have together occasioned mainstream politicians in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere in the West to express concern over human rights violations in Kashmir. Presumably, neither regime-friendly lawyers nor the Delhi Police dare file FIRs against international news agencies; the risk is in the narratives that might spin out of control. As it is, our diplomats’ hands are full this month preparing for the United Nations General Assembly on the 27th and the UN Human Rights Commission starting Monday. It is easier to go after a homegrown radical like Ms Rashid and debunk her hyperbole, for doing so helps the government perpetrate greater exaggerations.