Oftentimes perceptions are contrary to the truths. This happens, when systematic efforts are made to create a smokescreen to hide the real picture and then dole out camouflage as reality. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years a ‘perception’ has been assiduously built that local Kashmiri, especially the youth of Jammu Kashmir, is alienated with India and they support and endorse terrorist attacks like the one in Uri on September 18.
This ‘perception management’ has been going on for several years, thanks to the well-oiled network of spin doctors and opinion managers across media houses in the Kashmir Valley and in Delhi. The arrangement works in such a way that opinion, especially the Separatists’ viewpoint, is passed upon as news from the Valley. It is hardly reported that these Pakistan sympathiser Kashmiri Separatists are a mere handful and they do not enjoy the support of the masses.
This misinformation campaign reached a crescendo after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani. It is still on after the Uri terrorist attack on the Indian Army base camp. It has to be borne in mind that these perception managers know about Pakistan’s weaknesses and their lack of support in the Kashmir Valley, so they do not expose the chinks in Pakistan’s armour and deflect the public perception. They drum up the propaganda about Kashmiri youth’s alienation after every terrorist encounter and the negative fallouts of a nuclear war with Pakistan after every terrorist attack.
Indian security forces neutralise terrorists across Jammu and Kashmir and that includes shooting any terrorist, who threatens peace and national integrity. Wani’s encounter was one of these operations. But, the ‘perception managers’ of Kashmir Valley and their cousins in Delhi sniffed an opportunity in Burhan Wani’s death.
So, what happens immediately after Wani’s encounter? News breaks from Kashmir-Valley newspapers (read Pakistan sympathisers) reported that Burhan Wani was a ‘militant commander’ of Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed by Indian security forces in cold blood. He was hailed as a ‘martyr’. This reportage from Kashmir was immediately followed by the mainstream media houses from Delhi. Soon, all media houses started referring to Burhan Wani as ‘commandant’ or ‘militant commander’.
As a result, these perception managers deftly shifted the public discourse to Burhan Wani’s hobbies, passion for cricket, and love for Facebook, Twitter, etc. The terrorist Burhan Wani, who was an anti-national, who supported radical Islam, and who preached violence in the name of Islam was shrewdly brushed aside. Discussions and debates shifted towards the use of pellet guns by Indian security forces and AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Acts). Media houses from Delhi and from Kashmir Valley still do not report that Wani was a radical Islamic terrorist rather continue to refer him as a ‘commander’.
Okay, for a moment, let us assume that given their overt separatist agenda, these Valley centric news portals are expected to use these terms. But, what about the newspapers and news magazines published from the Indian capital? Why do they still refer to Burhan Wani as a ‘militant commander’? He was a terrorist and he should have been referred to by this name only. Calling him as the slain commander, who represented Kashmir youth is akin to referring to Osama bin Laden as the commander-in-chief of poor Afghan people. Radical Islamist newspapers may refer to bin Laden with whatever name they fancy, but American and European media organisations prefix the word “terrorist” with Osama bin Laden. Ditto for Burhan Wani. He was a radical Islamic terrorist, who used his cyber prowess to preach the Wahabi ideology in Kashmir, which has always been known for its Sufi tradition.
Even a cursory glance at some of his tweets are enough to prove that he was a terrorist, who was simply furthering the violent ambitions of his handlers in Pakistan. Consider this: “There is only One solution Gun solution Gun Solution — Burhan Bhai” posted on Wani’s twitter handle @Gazi_Burhan2 on July 2, 2016. Days later his another tweet says “Support Zakir Naik or Time Will Come When Qur’an Recitation will be Banned— Burhan Bhai”.
Wani’s aim was to “unfurl the flag of Islam on Delhi’s Red Fort”. There are several other tweets from Burhan Wani that prove that he had adopted the path of radical Islam and was a tool in the hands of Pakistani terrorists like Hafeez Saeed and Hizbul Majahiddin chief Syed Salahuddin.
In fact, none of the armchair reporters from Delhi bother to actually visit the Kashmir Valley and talk to real people on the ground before reporting on the developments in Kashmir. Even if they do, they go as embedded journalists, where the entire trip is planned and executed by Separatist sympathisers. Their visits are planned to the last detail that includes travel and boarding arrangements. So, where the ‘Delhi journalist’ would stay and whom will (s)he interview are all scripted well in advance. It’s precisely for this reason that the mainstream media houses of Delhi and the separatist media of the Kashmir Valley sing the same tune.
Unfortunately, this is the smokescreen, which has been successfully created by these spin doctors for a long time. There is absolutely no widespread support for Wani among the Muslims living in the Kashmir Valley. Yes, you read it right. There is no widespread support, either emotional or logistical among the Muslims for terrorists like Burhan Wani or terrorist organisations such as Hizbul Mujahideen. The obvious question that could be asked is: What about large gathering of people in processions and hordes of stone pelters in Kashmir Valley?
Well, first things first. The unrest after Wani’s encounter is restricted to five districts of the Kashmir Valley: Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kupwara and also parts of Srinagar. There are no sympathisers of Burhan Wani in other districts of the Kashmir Valley or the Jammu and Laddakh divisions.
Even in these troubled districts, it is just the perception of widespread support for Wani’s ideology and not the reality.
Several Sunni Muslim families with whom I interacted over the last few weeks denied extensive support to the likes of Burhan Wani. They explained that there are only a bunch of sangh baaz (stone pelters), who have created the mayhem. These anti-social elements, who were otherwise relegated to the margins of the society sensed Wani’s killing as opportunity and with active support from Jamaat (Islamic group) wandered through the villages ordering everyone to come out for the processions and for stone pelting. They earmark those households who defy their diktat. The names of these families and their children are then handed over to terrorist groups across the border, who later on take revenge for their defiance. “It is the fear factor that forces an ordinary Kashmiri to come out, when these stone pelters give their clarion call for protests. We know that these are anti-social elements and have direct links with the terrorist groups,” a Kashmiri Sunni Muslim explained. He spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity.
The instructions from terrorist organisations such as Jamaat are very clear that whoever does not come out of their homes for the protest would be deemed as informers of security forces. And once the informer tag is pasted onto a family, then the miscreants get a free hand to conduct any kind of atrocity on them. The women in the family are raped, children abducted, and men are killed.
Yet another villager said that in order to create the perception that we are for the ‘Kashmiri cause’ the family members, especially young boys are forced to come out and be a part of sangh baazi– stone pelting. He added that they are afraid to go to the local Jammu and Kashmir police because instead of providing them with security, they pass on the family’s information to the terrorist groups.
An average Kashmiri is thus stuck between the devil and the deep sea. He has no option, but to be a mute spectator during the stone pelting episodes and take part in the funeral processions of terrorists killed by the Indian security forces.
In fact, these perception managers are so blinded in their love for anti-national forces and hatred for India that even after the September 18 terrorist attack at the Army camp in Uri, they continued with their anti-India tirade. Editorials and opinion pieces argue that Wani’s death followed by the terrorist attack at Uri point towards the Kashmir uprising and every Kashmiri Muslim is now against the Indian state.
Security lapse at Uri can and should be discussed, but brandishing the entire Kashmiri Muslim is absolutely false. Uri is inhabited by the Gujjar and Pahari Muslims, who are fiercely loyal to India. Even a cursory mention that Gujjar and Pahari Muslims are Pakistan sympathisers is an affront to their nationalist spirit. The perception managers know that Gujjars and Pahari Muslims are Indian nationalists, so they silently brushed and buried this fact from public discourse.
Now, what do these perception managers write and say on television debates? They know that Pakistan is absolutely no match to India in direct military conflict. They also know that public anger across India is intense after the Uri terrorist attack. Even PM Narendra Modi tweeted that the culprits will not be spared this time. So, they have quickly got down to the business of diverting public opinion and discussions on this issue. They are now busy saying, “Hasty military action should not be undertaken,” “Pakistan is a nuclear power and striking a nuclear power is no option at all”. Some anti-India zealots have gone over to the extent of justifying the terrorist attacks, saying this fidayeen attacks coupled with the sangh baazi (stone pelting) only prove that Kashmir is slipping out of India’s hands.
Let me reiterate: All this is sheer propaganda, which has no basis. None of these armchair propagandists and perception managers have any realisation of the ground reality in Kashmir or have any genuine concern for the Kashmiri people. They are just loudmouth speakers, who blurt out whatever is fed into them by the Pakistan sympathiser Hurriyat Conference.
A common Kashmiri is more concerned about the well-being of his/her family and education of their children. They know that adherents of Wahabi ideology have become school teachers across Kashmir Valley, who urge school children to become sangh baaz (stone pelter). During troubled times these Wahabi teachers issue a diktat that no student should come to school rather should take part in processions and stone pelting. The perception managers take it further by reporting that children are not coming to schools in support of the bandh or are taking active part in sangh baazi (stone pelting).
The parents in Kashmir are well aware of these tactics and insist on de-radicalising of school teachers across the Kashmir Valley. This, they say, can be done by identifying and deporting teachers, who adhere to and instil Wahabi ideology in the impressionable minds of school children.
The need of the hour is to begin objective reporting from the Kashmir Valley, such that perception managers and spin doctors are not able to camouflage the truth about Jammu and Kashmir. It is time journalists stop choosing to be spoon-fed by the Pakistani sympathisers for information; they need to step out of their air-conditioned offices and visit Kashmir Valley—not as embedded journalists, but as honest reporters. They should talk to real people, understand the ground reality and then report.