Oftentimes perceptions are contrary to the truth. 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 on India and the Indian Army in Kashmir.
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 Kashmiri 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 on July 8, 2016. 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, instead, they deflect the public perception. They drum up the propaganda about Kashmiri youth’s alienation after every terrorist encounter and the negative fallout of a nuclear war with Pakistan whenever India gets tough on Islamabad. Indian security forces neutralise terrorists across Jammu and Kashmir and that includes shooting any terrorist, who threatens peace and national integrity. Burhan 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 happened 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 a section of mainstream media houses from Delhi. Soon, international media groups started referring to Burhan Wani as ‘commandant’ or ‘militant commander’. Over the years these perception managers have deftly shifted the public discourse to Burhan Wani’s hobbies, passion for cricket, and love for Facebook, Twitter, etc. 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 Act). Several media houses from Delhi, Kashmir Valley and the international media still do not report that Burhan Wani was a radical Islamic terrorist rather they continue to refer him as a ‘commander’.
Well, Burhan Wani was a terrorist and he should be referred as a terrorist. Calling him as the slain commander, who represented Kashmir’s youth is akin to referring Osama bin Laden as the commander-in-chief of poor Afghan people. Radical Islamist newspapers may refer to Osama 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 Burhan Wani’s 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 into 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 their 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 a large section of 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?
Several Sunni Muslim families with whom I have had detailed discussions denied extensive support for the likes of Burhan Wani. They explained that there were only a bunch of sangh baaz (stone pelters), who had created the mayhem. These anti-social elements, who are otherwise relegated to the margins of the society sense an opportunity whenever a terrorist killed in an encounter. These anti-social types then wander 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 bunch of stone pelters gave 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 Hizbul Mujahideen are very clear that whoever does not come out of their homes for the protest or at the funeral procession of the slain terrorists 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 whenever security forces cordon off an area to arrest a terrorist. He added that they are afraid to report the mater to Jammu and Kashmir police because this is taken as an act of war by terrorists and their sympathizers. The women in these families are then raped and men killed by the terrorists.
An average Kashmiri then quietly passes on the information of a terrorist’s whereabouts to the security forces. And it’s due to these pin pointed information about a terrorist’s location that Indian security forces have been able to hunt them down across the Kashmir Valley. But then the perception managers remain blinded in their love for anti-national forces. Even after the valley’s clean up of terrorists and a return of normalcy post the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A they continue with their anti-India tirade.
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. 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).
The parents in Kashmir are well aware of these tactics and insist on de-radicalization 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 Kashmir Valley, such that perception managers and spin doctors are not able to camouflage 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.