Mars as ‘foreign hand’: Kashmir spends night in fear of ‘cosmic rays’ via phone

Mars mission

Late on Tuesday night, residents across Kashmir scrambled to switch off their mobile phones. The reason were not pesky calls but another "incoming" hazard: a rumour that harmful cosmic rays were going to enter Earth via the phones from Mars, and set off blasts.

The government finally had to step in and make announcements on radio and television, threatening to book people spreading the rumour, to quell the panic.

It was around 10 pm that the buzz started, with people making frantic calls to friends, relatives and neighbours urging them to switch off their mobile phones as dangerous cosmic rays were headed for Earth. The news was attributed to not just the ever-reliable BBC but also the NASA. Soon, it had made its way to Facebook, Twitter.

Some people called up the J&K Disaster Management Cell and local media houses to check the veracity of the reports.

The rumour coincided with predictions that the world was going to end on December 12, citing the ancient Mayan calendar.

Amir Ali, coordinator of the Valley's Disaster Management Cell, said he received dozens of calls. "Many people were not ready to believe me," he said, adding that several told him they were being asked to switch off phones and leave them outside as these could blow up, causing death or injuries.

"I tried to assure people it could be a prank or a bid to steal mobile phones," he said. Ali even went to social networking sites to reiterate that it was all a rumour.

Student Sana Iqbal said a friend had called to urge her to switch off her mobile phone. Ashiq Ahmad received more than a dozen calls. "Initially, I also switched off my mobile, but then I checked the BBC site and there was no such news," he said.

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