On August 10, BBC News had reported that thousands of protesters had taken to the streets in Soura, Srinagar against the government’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. The media outlet claimed that it “witnessed the police opening fire and using tear gas to disperse the crowd. Despite that, the Indian government has said the protest never took place.” BBC Punjabi claimed that live rounds were also fired at the protestors.
Al Jazeera had also reported about the massive agitation in Srinagar where a large crowd defied government orders of a lockdown. The organisation said that the protestors were met with live fire, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
According to Reuters, at least 10,000 had participated in the August 9 protest against the dilution of Article 370. The publication claimed to have spoken to a police source, an official source and eyewitnesses.
Soon after these reports, the Home Ministry put out a statement claiming that the news suggesting 10,000 people protested in Srinagar is “fabricated and incorrect” and only a “few stray protests” were carried out where “not more than 20 people” were involved.
The Home Ministry has now clarified that widespread protests indeed took place in Soura, Srinagar.
MHA’s clarification came three days after its earlier statement. By this time, the claim that news reports of the protests were “fabricated” had already become fodder for many – Republic TV, Retd Major Gaurav Arya, Mohandas Pai, Abhijit Iyer Mitra and OpIndia.
BBC had tweeted that the publication stood by its reportage but none, especially journalists, who had spoken against its broadcast, provided any evidence to back their accusations or support the government’s claim.
The following were the claims raised against BBC’s reportage by the government and individuals on social media.
At multiple places in the videos, the protestors can be seen holding up a poster that says – “Abrogation of Article 370 is not acceptable for us Jammu and Kashmir”.
The government of India stripped J&K of its special status only recently. The presence of this banner indicates that the footage is not old. Moreover, the Home Ministry itself has confirmed that protests did take place.
There have been several claims on social media that the no protests erupted in Kashmir. Many others claimed that the unrest did not occur in India. However, several visual cues in the footage establish that the scenes were shot in Srinagar.
A mosque is visible from 1:31 to 1:57 in the BBC footage. The same mosque – which has a green dome with white stripes and white and green coloured towers on the side – is also visible in the Al Jazeera footage from 0:27 to 0:36.
Alt News looked for mosques in Soura and found that the one featured in the videos is Jenab mosquelocated in Anchar, Soura.
The mosque is more clearly visible in another video of the protest broadcast by Al Jazeera.
At 0:57 into the BBC footage, a hoarding that says ‘Ramzan Memorial’ is visible. This is an educational institute in Soura, Srinagar.
A board that says ‘Nice Bakery’ is seen from 00:59 to 1:08 in the BBC footage. This is also located in Soura near Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences or (SKIMS) Hospital.
Google Maps show that all the three establishments – Jenab Saeb mosque, Ramzan Memorial Educational Trust and SKIMS Hospital – are within walking distance.
In the first few seconds of the BBC footage, where people can be seen running helter-skelter and shots can be heard in the background, we noticed a board (possibly an advertisement) on a lamppost. However, due to the poor quality of the video, the board is not legible. Alt News contacted BBC News and was sent stills from their raw footage where the board is more clearly visible. As evident in the photo montage below, the board says – ‘Sharp Sight’ – which is an Eye Hospital in Chanpora, Srinagar.
This fact-check thus confirms that the videos broadcast by BBC and Al Jazeera were shot in Soura, Srinagar. The “abrogation of Article 370” banners suggest that the unrest was sparked by the government’s recent decision to scrap J&K’s special status and the large gathering of people proves that MHA’s earlier claim that not more than 20 people had agitated is incorrect. While BBC’s reportage claimed live rounds were fired to push back the crowd and the media organisation reiterated that they stand by their report, Alt News was unable to independently verify the same. However, the Indian government has repeatedly denied the usage of bullets.