On Friday just before the call of prayers reverberated in Srinagar, two policemen were shot dead in broad light by a gunman.
The blatant act of a young man opening fire on the cop who was buying things from a local shop was caught on camera and was widely shared on social media.
The slain cops belonged to two extremes of Kashmir’s vast topography, while one belonged to the border district of Kupwara, another belonged to Anantnag district. Kashmiris showed mixed reactions to the incident, with many expressing grief and shock as soon as wailing pictures of the families of the duo were viral on social media, even as the area where the attack happened remained shut for the whole day.
However, a section of mainstream national media and social media users soon jumped on the bandwagon of declaring the attack as Islamist terrorism aimed at non-Muslims in Kashmir.
A New Delhi-based news channel reported that the attack was on a bakery shop that is owned by a Hindu, non-local. What followed was a series of anti-Kashmiri and Islamophobic reactions to the news item. “Find all Kashmiri stone-pelters and kill them all,” wrote one social media user. “This is what Islam teaches,” read another along with a meme that made fun of the concept of heaven and Muslims. “Govt should teach all Kashmiris seeking Azadi a lesson, find them and kill them,” read another response to the post.
The misinformation created a hateful fest on social media against Kashmiris, with even prominent personalities becoming its victim. Among those who resorted to hateful comments was south Indian billionaire businessman Arun Pudur. Taking to his Twitter handle, Pudur while commenting on the CCTV footage of the attack, termed it as an “Islamist attack on innocent Hindus”. He later deleted the tweet.
The campaign aimed at the attack being on Hindus, however, found no mention in the police version as being one. Hours after the killing of two policemen in Srinagar’s Baghat area on Friday, the police identified the attackers as two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, including a local.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, said, “The two policemen were on a routine duty and were at a shop to buy something. They were fired from the back. They were totally unarmed.”
He also made no mention of the attack being carried on non- Kashmiris or non-Muslims.
However, that didn’t stop the anti-Kashmiri hateful campaign which was widespread after the incident as it came on the heels of the attack on a famous eatery in Srinagar, Krishna Dhaba. This despite the fact that Kashmiris, both locals, and politicians had widely condemned the incident. Also, most visitors to a famous eatery are natives who relish his vegetarian dishes including the mouth-watering combination Rajma rice.
Omar Abdullah, who is a former chief minister of J-K, called the attack “unacceptable”. He said: “Very sorry to hear about the attack on the Krishna Dhaba in Srinagar, these attacks are unacceptable. I hope the injured person who is himself associated with the dhaba and is undergoing treatment in a city hospital makes a complete and speedy recovery.”
Another former Chief Minister of J-K, Mehbooba Mufti, said: “Deeply saddened by the attack on Krishna Dhaba at Sonawar in Srinagar. Extend my sympathies to the injured & his family. Violence is never the answer.”
The fact that both the killed cops were Muslims either did not stop the likes of Sushil Pandit to spew venom against Kashmiri Muslims. In its prime time show at 9 pm, talking on the same incident on Times Now, Pandit known for his anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri views said, “Jihad begins to devour its own children after it is done with minorities.” Terming the attack as an “Islamist” on Hindu-owned shops in Kashmir Valley, Pandit further went on to say that the killing of two Muslim cops was incidental, “Two Muslim men killed is being held as a fig leaf, that they were killed and were Muslims was incidental, they were not killed because they were Muslims,” the charged up Pandit said on the show.
In Kashmir, the news-thirsty people often watch him spewing fire and spitting venom against Kashmiri Muslims, Islam, and Pakistan on Indian television channels in prime time debate programs.
The said misinformation campaign was also a stark reminder of how a section of media creates a demonic image of Kashmiris in mainstream India who later become victims of hate in the form of physical abuse at the hands of right-wing elements.
Right after the 2019 suicide attack on Central Reserve Police Force vehicle in south Kashmir’s Pulwama, Kashmiris were attacked in every part of the country with many others forced to return. Such was the hatred spewed against Kashmiris on primetime shows, that even those who had been living for decades outside the valley were left with no option but to return home. Among them was a doctor who had been living in Kolkata for thirty years.
The hatred had a chilling impact on those living outside Kashmir for reasons like business or education. If not for few samaritans, things would have gotten even worse, thanks to the hate campaign that was at its full flow on both mainstream and social media. Many Indians had offered accommodation to students and businessmen accommodated by their tenants. Khalsa aid is known for its philanthropic endeavors even escorted Kashmiri girl students to their homes in the valley.
That this is the time when many Kashmiris are still outside owing to business and other commitments, the campaign would have again lead to the situation of 2019 and created further problems for the valleyites who have been living on the sword’s edge ever since the section of mainstream media turned their guns towards them.