Are people in India’s Jammu & Kashmir province angry with the federal government after its special autonomous status was revoked and it was split into two union territories a week ago?
A large number of them were not expected to be happy with the move, at least not the hard-core separatists. For nearly three decades, an insurgency led by jihadi militants — trained, armed and funded by neighbouring Pakistan — has wracked the province. The militants have forced hundreds of thousands of minority Hindus from the Kashmir valley. Indian government has responded with a brutal military crackdown.
By revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s Hindu nationalist government headed by Narendra Modi has fulfilled his party’s old promise to integrate the province with India and ensure rehabilitation of ousted Kashmiri Hindus. He says integration would end terrorism and bring peace and prosperity to the region.
The government claims that people in the province were tired of the insurgency and wanted peace and a better economy while militants and separatist politicians were interested in perpetuation of violence. Critics of the move claim that the federal government ignored constitutional norms to impose a unilateral decision on the people of the province — and then detained several politicians, restricted civilian movement, prohibited large assemblies, and suspended internet and phone services so that no one could protest.
If you watch the videos released by the government and several Indian journalists, you would believe there’s an uneasy calm, but calm nevertheless. Some even show people might not be upset with the decision. They give the impression that there might be some truth in the claims of the government that ordinary people wanted peace which the integration of the province with India promises.
But if you watch a video shown on August 10 by the BBC and Al Jazeera, you would think people are mighty angry and the revocation of special status will bring no peace. The video shows hundreds of people protesting in the streets of the capital. Some are carrying banners of jihadi outfits including ISIS and photos of slain militants. The BBC claimed thousands marched in protests and police fired at them, injuring dozens.
WATCH: Despite government saying reports of protests in Saura were completely fabricated, see exclusive BBC footage here for the truth. Thousands marched, police fired on protesters, dozens injured #Kashmir #BBCUrdu pic.twitter.com/J0S72XuK1W
— Nicola Careem (@NicolaCareem) August 10, 2019
The Indian government said the video was fabricated. It said there were a few small protests in the capital but none as big as to involve thousands. It also said it did not fire a single bullet since the revocation of the special status.
The government claims the video was first floated by Al Jazeera and then by the BBC. According to Indian media reports, the government has asked the BBC to provide raw footage of the video to prove its authenticity. Several different shots were spliced together in the video. Referring to the incident which the BBC claims to have captured in its video, the government said some miscreants mingled with people returning home after prayers at a local mosque and began throwing stones at cops who controlled the mob with restraint.
The BBC says it stands by its journalism and refutes claims that it has misrepresented the events in Kashmir. Several other media reports too have claimed cops shot at protesters.
This is not the first time the government has questioned the BBC’s coverage of the Kashmir insurgency. In an 1999 article titled ‘Psychological warfare’, a top Indian bureaucrat had claimed that four years ago the BBC had shown visuals of Russian-made tanks with a story on Kashmir. When the government pointed out that these visuals had been shown earlier with a story on clashes between Russian troops and Muslim extremists in Chechnya, the BBC telecast a correction — but only in its Asian service and not to the rest of the world.
The government is cautious about rumours and fake news that can cause violent protests in the Kashmir valley. It has a lot on stake. If India manages to avoid major protests — and deaths — in Kashmir in coming months, it would be a message to the world that the insurgency had no mass support but was fuelled by jihadi militants sponsored by Pakistan.
But critics say the government wants to suppress news of crackdown on protesters to create an impression of peace in the region.