Id prayers held, but was J&K ‘peaceful’?

The authorities have kept a tight information and communications blackout.

Id-ul-Zuha, the first religious celebration in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley after the abrogation of J&K’s special status, has come with pellet injuries, as a Srinagar-datelined report in this newspaper, published on Monday — the day of Id — describes graphically. But the bureaucracy and the police in the Valley were patting themselves on the back. Their concern was that Id prayers had gone off “peacefully”. Some television channels too crowed about this, and they gave the matter the widest coverage. Under the present leadership, television news in India has tended to take its cue from the government, especially on matters like “nationalism”. The Opposition’s opinions are mocked, dissenting voices sneered at. Kashmir is at the top of the government and ruling party propaganda. So, “independent” news broadcasters have gone about their work with unmitigated enthusiasm.

Some leeway had been given to the populace over the weekend to buy the things needed for Id. A few shops could keep open. The government also made clumsy efforts to deliver the essentials in mobile vans so that the people may not be troubled to step out of their homes to make festival purchases. If they stayed in, they can’t stir up trouble when mobiles, fixed-line phones and the Internet have been immobilised.

The authorities have kept a tight information and communications blackout. The government did make scratchy arrangements for people to call their families, but the queues were long. The waiting time was three to four hours. The exercise was quite pointless and generated resentment.

About half a dozen famous mosques, shrines and prayer grounds of Srinagar are packed to capacity with the faithful on the day of Id. But this time they were kept out of bounds. People were told to go to the mosque in the lanes nearest to their homes.

But did even these desperate measures lead to a “peaceful” Id? We can’t be sure and must take the government’s word for it. The news shots on television do not show the inner city areas, or what’s known as “downtown” Srinagar, which can become a tinderbox in a flash. Around this a huge controversy has already arisen.

On Friday, the BBC and some other international television channels spoke of clashes involving 10,000 protesters in a part of the old city that looks like the Soura area at the north end. The official machinery has flatly denied this. It said the police had not fired a single shot since the clampdown, and urged people not to believe rumours, though it has acknowledged that small crowds of stone-pelting people were dealt with locally.

Ordinarily, the government’s version would have been acceptable. But now there is ground for scepticism. In the days before the constitutional changes were effected in the status of J&K, people were urged by the officials not to believe “rumours”. Events showed they were wilfully misleading the public.

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