Threat posters were recently found in Kashmir warning scooty-riding girls of dire consequences. “We request all the girls, please do not use scooty. If we see any girl who rides scooty, we will burn the scooty as well as the girl,” read the poster allegedly issued by Sangbaaz (Stone Pelters) Association Jammu & Kashmir.
While a Press Trust of India report concerning the story was reproduced in The Indian Express, digitally native website The Quint also reported on it. However, the said news item was missing from Kashmiri newspapers.
“The issue is that you don’t know who is putting up these posters. They are all faceless people. There is no authenticity,” said Shujaat Bukhari, Editor-in-Chief of Rising Kashmir. Bukhari was of the opinion that publishing such a story without knowing as to who was responsible for this act would lead to “panic” in the society.
“Anybody can post anything. Don’t you think that by publishing such a news piece, one is becoming party to the threats,” he added. But Rahul Pandita, The Hindu’s Former Editor (Opinion & Special Stories), did not buy into Bukhari’s arguments.
“I would have agreed with Bukhari had he maintained the same editorial line in other cases,” said Pandita. The author of “Our moon had blood clots” accused Rising Kashmir of having published “unsubstantiated” reports in the past. “It is absolutely clear to me that he is trying to shield the separatist groups and Islamist militants,” he said.
He mentioned that Kashmiri militants had been publishing threats in local newspapers since September 1989. According to Pandita, the militants’ diktats were issued like a press release that was reproduced in major newspapers. He cited an instance wherein a threat issued by terror outfit Allah Tigers was published in several newspapers including Kashmir Times.
Independent media professional Gowhar Geelani chose to talk about the suspicious nature of the posters. “I don’t think that the news has not been carried. I personally think it is being done by vested interests,” said Geelani.
He argued that at a time when the electronic media was busy portraying protesting Kashmiris as “agitiational terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers”, certain vested interests were working towards discrediting the freedom movement.
Hinting towards the role of state police and intelligence agencies, he explained that the posters could have been published by anyone. Moreover, he maintained that there was no such organisation as Stone Pelters Association Jammu & Kashmir. “Kashmir is not traditionally conservative. But in the ‘90s, certain militants tried to impose ban on cinema halls and force burkha (veil) upon women,” he said.
Stressing that Kashmiri society was very much open, Geelani asserted that “mosques are abuzz with pro-freedom slogans” at a time of internet blockade in the state. He further commented that “burkha, jeans-wearing girls” were very much a part of the “largely indigenous” freedom movement.
Author Siddhartha Gigoo was least surprised that the story wasn’t picked up by Kashmiri media. “The local Kashmiri media will not cover it because of reasons well known. It doesn’t suit them. They don’t want it (Kashmir issue) to be portrayed as a religious problem,” said Gigoo.
Claiming that Kashmir was a patriarchal society where religion plays a huge role, he stated that in places like Baramulla and Sopore, women were supposed to dress up in a certain way. But the same restrictions did not apply to men.
“Even local women will not protest because they have been co-opted,” he said. Responding to allegations of the recent threats being a “state gimmick”, Gigoo pointed out that previously there had been cases of acid attacks on Kashmiri women. He questioned whether “it was also state-sponsored.”