Thursday, 8 September 2016

E-battle of Kashmiris

Traumatized by incessant warfare, high unemployment, political alienation and social insecurities, the youth in Indian held Kashmir is hanging on to media technologies to show up the inhuman face of India to the larger world. Media and web based discussion groups often initiated by Kashmiris living in UK and elsewhere are providing alternate spaces to youth in Kashmir for catharsis. But this new battle is also counterattacked by the Indian Government with a frequent ban on text messages[i]and cyber surveillance. 

Kashmiri diaspora is everywhere in the world now. Those who have fled Indian atrocities in the Valley are now well-established, many of them exerting political influence in US and British Parliaments. Many migrants from the Mirpur district (Pakistani side or Azad Kashmir) belong to prominent British-Pakistani community in London. They are quite active in using social networking sites to raise awareness among the international community about civic and political rights of people living in IHK. Many from this diaspora have established online NGOs to promote Kashmir cause and freedom mission.
The use of social media as an alternate means of protest has also become popular amongst separatist leadership groups whose sole reliance on strike calls and protest calendars was gradually rejected by the local people questioning the efficacy of shutting down the daily businesses. The Hurriyat leaders are themselves using Facebook and Twitter accounts to bridge the gap between people and leadership.[ii]   
Most modestly termed as “cyber intifada”, the passionate youth of Kashmir are using their cellphone cameras to wage an alternate form of war against Indian atrocities. It has now become a battle of bullet versus stone and photo. In the words of Peter Goodspeed, “the youths record and photograph the clashes, posting images of the dead, sobbing mothers and funerals on Facebook and other websites….An uprising generated by Internet social sites is an angry amorphous force with no defined leadership.”[iii] There is a shift in resistance approach for many of the Kashmiris who now prefer street and online remonstrations over armed struggle. Those preferring e-protests are children of the conflict[iv] born during or after the rebellion movement and witnessed their families suffer from street violence in the sixty years of conflict. Street protests are now promoted and scheduled through Facebook and Twitter pages. The ‘million march’ was being organized on November 7, 2015 to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Srinagar through social networking groupsOver 120 such pages were identified by the cyber cell of Jammu and Kashmir Police Force in an attempt to block most of them.[v] Facebook and Twitter based chat groups revolve around anti-India discussions and often involve pro-freedom chants and slogans.
Many of the multimedia messages on YouTube and Facebook reporting innocent killings by the Indian Security Forces in Kashmir receive viral response (see figure 2) and often end up in street rallies and mass protests. This has led the Indian Government to enforce cyber surveillance and making arrests for many Kashmiris with charges of terrorism and hate speech. Scrapped only 9 months back in March 2015 by the Indian Supreme Court, Section 66 (A), which “prohibited the sending of information of a “grossly offensive” or “menacing” nature through computers and communication devices”, was utterly misused by the J&K Police Force since its enforcement in 2008. The Police lodged several cases against politicians, journalists, students and others in Kashmir for spreading rumors and sharing information that could "create disturbances and destroy peace in Kashmir". At least 16 people were booked in 2012 for their alleged role in organizing protests on social networking websites.[vi] For security reasons, many from the youth have long been using fake names and anonymous accounts to post pro-freedom messages.
Technology has opened up Kashmir both physically and intellectually. Advances in road and transportation infrastructure have made inroads to distant parts of IHK as far and high as the Siachen Glacier. It was the availability of modern mountaineering technology and skills that allowed India to expand ground-centered Kashmir war to the heights of more than 15, 000 feet converting useless terrain of Siachen into a new battle-field.[vii] The emergence of social media and web technology is the most significant change that has given long-subjugated people in IHK independent and diverse channels of opening up to the outside world about their sufferings and dejection in the Indian society in spite of several restrictions on freedom of speech.

Asma Yaqoob
Research Analyst 
IRS Islamabad

[i] SMS banned in Kashmir Valley, The Hindu, June 10, 2010. (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[ii] Frequent hartals making Hurriyat unpopular: Kashmir separatists look for alternate means to be heard,The First Post, Nov 24, 2015. (accessed on December 14, 2015)
[iii] Peter Goodspeed, Goodspeed Analysis: Youth in revolt, National Post, September 18, 2010. (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[iv] Fahad Shah, Kashmir’s e-protest, Open Democracy, 6 August 2010. (Accessed on 10 December 2015)
[v] Police to block Facebook, “Twitter pages promoting Kashmir million march”, Greater Kashmir, November 1, 2015. (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[vi] Sameer Yasir, “WhatsApp jokes to Facebook posts: How Section 66A was abused in Kashmir”, First Post, March 26, 2015. (accessed on 10 December 2015)
[vii] Stephen P. Cohen, Shooting for a Century, The Brookings Institution: USA, 2013, p. 125. 


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