[Reader-list] Kashmir, where rumours ride horses, facts travel barefoot

Pawan Durani pawan.durani at gmail.com
Fri Jun 18 12:42:02 IST 2010

Kashmir, where rumours ride horses, facts travel barefoot


2010-06-18 10:10:00
Bustling markets, clogged roads and the loud voices of pavement
vendors selling their merchandise can all suddenly turn into deserted
streets where even a pin drop would make a noise. And in all
likelihood, behind it is some rumour - a lethal weapon used in the
Kashmir Valley to meet political objectives for ages.

'It is the archetypal story of the seven blind men who went to see an
elephant. If you base your perception on what you see or hear on a
certain day or at a certain point of time, you have either overshot
the mark or gone absolutely under it,' says Naseer Ahmad, a
journalist, who has been covering the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir
for the last 15 years now.

Many rumours have been woven around Sheikh Abdullah, the legendary
Kashmiri leader. A tale has it that his name was written on maple
leaves in the early 1930s by a divine power, giving credence to his
fight against the autocratic Dogra rulers. Some of his diehard fans
believe it to be true even today!

It was also said that when Abdullah was imprisoned in 1953, a jailer
asked him to jump into a cauldron full of steaming mustard oil.
Abdullah put his finger in it to test the temperature and it cooled
down - goes the story. The jailer was impressed and Abdullah released!

Some sociologists believe that because the landlocked valley has
remained inaccessible to the outside world for centuries, both truth
and rumours have lived alongside each other.

'The same person who carried a piece of hard news in the old days from
one place to another also became a ready vehicle for rumours. It is
natural and easy for anyone to believe what is told to him or her in
the first person. The rumour monger has to just set the ball rolling
and the rest is done by hyperactive rumour lovers in society,' said
Abida, 34, a sociology teacher.

There is another famous local tale of a crowd jostling against each
other on a famous bridge in this city. Someone among the crowd asks
what is it that everyone had been trying to find in the passing waters
of the Jhelum river, but his companion tells him to silently fix his
gaze on the water current without asking any questions.

'But what has happened here? Has someone jumped into the river or has
some demon been spotted in the riverbed?' persists the first man.
Finally, the friend replies that if he had known the answer, he would
have moved ahead and reached home by now!

This tale, according to Mohammed Maqbool, 67, of Zaina Kadal area,
explains the instant acceptance that wild rumours get in a city that
has been witness to many troubles.

A retired senior intelligence officer, who did not want to be named,
had an even more interesting story.

'In the late 1960s, the daily intelligence diary submitted to top
bosses contained an essential detail. A separate column reserved for
the day's rumours.

'Believe it or not, all the rumours had such instant acceptability
that markets would be closed or opened on the strength of such
rumours,' the retired officer said.

A strange truth about rumours in the valley is that they gain
immediate credibility once denied by the government.

'The problem is that once an official statement is issued, denying a
certain rumour, people here start weaving stories around such denials.
The fact that a certain rumour has been denied ensures that the rumour
reaches a much larger section of the people than those initially
influenced by it!' said Abdul Samad, 78, a village headman in

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at f.ahmed at ians.in)

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