AS SHE sat with her face covered inside the house, her family insisted that no photographs be taken. Not after another photo, taken four days ago, got the Bhat family in Sopore’s Tarzoo village fearing for their lives.
That image posted on social media identified some of the family’s women members, including the girl, as members of the BJP. And, at a time when political workers of the ruling PDP-BJP coalition in J&K have come under attack, the family insists that its women “have nothing to do with the BJP”.
According to the family, a group of women — four cousins and three neighbours — met office-bearers of the BJP at a relative’s home in Tarzoo to speak about setting up a sewing centre in the village. But the group, aged between 17 and 23, was under the impression that it was speaking to officials of J&K’s Social Welfare Department, says the family.
By Thursday evening, photographs of the meeting were posted on social media, with the girls portrayed as BJP Mahila Morcha workers. “We did not know they were BJP people, we were cheated,” claims the mother of the 19-year-old girl who was part of the meeting.
“One of our relatives, Ghulam Hassan Dar, informed us that some people from the Social Welfare Department were visiting the house and promised that we could get a sewing centre for the village,” says Danish Bhat, the girl’s brother. “No one here wants to engage in politics. A neighbouring village had recently got such a centre, and we thought we could get one, too.”
However, the BJP’s media advisor in J&K, Altaf Thakur, rejects the allegations.
“The girls are active members of the BJP and it is only after seeing abusive messages on social media that they are refuting this. We believe they were threatened,” he says, adding that BJP district president D K Nehru, District Mahila Morcha president Arifa Jan and constituency in-charge Sajad Mir were part of the group.
According to the 19-year-old girl, the visitors spoke to them about the 104 schemes started for women by the central government.
“She (Arifa Jan) took us to a separate room in the house and told us more about the welfare policies. And then, she took out her phone and began taking photos of the group. When we asked why, we were told that it was for record’s sake and won’t be used for any political purposes,” she says.
Arifa Jan says she left the house after the half-hour meeting and added the photos to the party’s WhatsApp group.
“We were taken to the village by Ghulam Hassan, who is in charge of the party’s expansion in the district, and went inside the house to hold a party meeting. I was told that the girls in the village wanted to meet us and put forth their demands,” she says.
Denying the allegation that she had uploaded the photos on social media, Jan says “someone from the group may have done so”.
Danish noticed the post on Facebook that night. “Then, relatives and neighbours started calling. They were furious at us being portrayed at BJP workers in a sensitive place like Sopore. None of us have jobs, we work in orchards or stay at home,” he says.
“We called Ghulam Hassan, who added Jan to the call, and we urged her to take the post down. She said she understood the circumstances and would ask for the photographs to be removed and amend an attached press release,” claims Danish.
Jan claims she offered the family help from police but the offer was rejected — the photos have not yet been removed.
Last week, a 25-year-old man with alleged links to the BJP was shot by unidentified gunmen in Sopore. Last November, the district president of the party’s youth wing, Gowhar That, was found with his throat slit in south Kashmir. A month earlier, a PDP worker was killed in Shopian, and a grenade lobbed inside the home of the party’s lawmaker Aijaz Mir.
On Saturday, just 3 km from Tarzoo, an IED blast killed four policemen.
“Without jobs and avenues, we thought the sewing centre will give us something to do… We have not left the house since that day and we are constantly worried that we might be attacked,” says the girl.