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Kashmir, where rumours ride horses, facts travel barefoot (Feature)

Srinagar, June 18 (Calcutta Tube) 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 Ganderbal.

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

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