When posters for a February 9 event, titled ‘Poetry reading - The country without a post office’, were pasted across the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus earlier this month, it quickly snowballed into a nationwide controversy.
Voices across the country came out against the contentious claims made by the poster on the “judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt” and its expression of “solidarity with the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination”. The subsequent arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar resulted in an ugly stand-off between the Centre and university students.
However, in the midst of this melee, an engineer from Hyderabad’s Miyapur area found himself asking a completely different question. Is it true that Kashmir does not have a single post office, he wanted to know.
Now, the man in question – Kanumuri Manikanta Karthik – also happened to be a prolific RTI activist. So he lost no time in filing an application, a copy of which is with HT, to make the following enquiries: “First, what percentage of Kashmir is covered by the postal department? Second, how many post offices are there in Kashmir? Third, what should be the number of post offices in Kashmir, according to postal department norms? And fourth, if there is difference between the numbers of post offices established, what is the reason for the difference and what steps are being taken to cover it?”
However, if Karthik had run a quick Google search before getting all RTI-happy, he would have realised that the title of the event actually referred to a poem penned by renowned Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali. The work pertained to a certain period of time in 1990, when militancy and counter-insurgency operations had peaked in the Valley, resulting in the disruption of postal operations across the region. Originally titled ‘Kashmir without a post office’, it was later revised and published in 1997 as the title poem of a collection called ‘The country without a post office’.
Unfortunately, Karthik knew nothing of this. “When I saw the JNU poster on the Internet, I wondered if the protesting students were trying to misguide others into believing that Kashmir backward enough to not have a single post office. So I filed an online RTI,” the engineer told HT over the phone from Hyderabad.
He received a prompt response from the office of the chief postmaster general, Srinagar. Replying to the first two questions, JR Angural, assistant director of postal services, J-K Circle, said: “Postal facilities are provided in every nook and corner of Kashmir Valley… A total of 1,699 post offices function in the J-K Circle, of which 705 post offices function in Kashmir Valley.”
As there was no data available for his third and fourth questions, Karthik had to make do with an inconclusive “no comments”.
Confirming that a “man from Hyderabad” had indeed filed such an online RTI query, Angural told HT: “We could not answer the third and fourth queries because we did not have sufficient data. In any case, we did provide all the necessary data the man had asked for – such as the number of post offices in Kashmir.”
However, despite having all his doubts on Kashmir’s postal system cleared, Karthik isn’t a very happy man. For one, he is being trolled mercilessly on social media.
“Someone filed an RTI to disprove Agha Shahid’s famous poem. No hope,” tweeted London-based Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed along with a screenshot of Karthik’s RTI response. While others ridiculed him with abrasive adjectives like “ignorant” and “hilarious”, a few asked him to give Ali’s poetry a try.
Karthik admitted to interpreting the title of the event wrong, but hoped that his baiters on Twitter would be a little sparing in their criticism. “I agree that I took the title of the event at JNU rather literally, considering that I did not know about the poem. But they are mercilessly making fun of me now,” he lamented.