An increase in militant deaths across Kashmir – especially its southern region – has given rise to rumours that intelligence agencies have “enrolled” common technological devices such as electric bulbs and sim cards in their crusade against rebel elements.
According to sources, it began with unverified reports that residents of South Kashmir were smashing subsidised LED bulbs being distributed by the government under the Ujala scheme. There was a widespread belief that they were fitted with “micro chips that could track down militants the moment they enter a person’s house”. Some even claimed that the bulbs – distributed at Rs 20 against the actual market price of Rs 250 – were fitted with surveillance cameras.
According to another rumour that began doing the rounds after two alleged militants and a civilian were killed on March 10, a senior separatist leader has asked Kashmiri residents to boycott a mobile company that’s distributing “free sim cards” – equipped with inbuilt technology capable of tracking militants – across the state. However, the leader has denied issuing such a statement.
As many as 11 militants were killed in seven encounters across the Valley last month.
Even as Kashmir struggles to regain normalcy after eight months of shutdowns and curfews, residents have begun wondering if this year’s tourist season would come a cropper too. “People are even giving out dates of upcoming uprisings. Thankfully, one such date – March 10 – went by peacefully,” said Abid Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar’s old city area.
However, rumours like these are nothing new in Kashmir. Last year, its residents were left shuddering over rumours that hundreds of children had died after being administered polio drops by government agencies.
“Once, in the 1990s, rumours arose that security agencies had dumped poison in the main reservoir that supplies water to Srinagar. Masjid authorities made announcements that residents should not drink its water,” said Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a retired government servant.
Earlier, in the 80s, unsubstantiated claims were made about children from the Valley being kidnapped by outsiders. “Angry residents even burnt a foreign tourist to death in broad daylight, claiming that he was trying to abduct a child,” said Altaf Hussain, a former BBC correspondent.
However, DIG (south Kashmir) SP Pani refused to comment on the rumours because it was “not a law-and-order problem”.
Another police officer voiced a similar sentiment. “We can’t do much because the rumours aren’t causing any public disorder, but we try and allay people’s fears when specific cases are brought to our notice,” he said on the condition of anonymity.