Before it transformed the Arab street, Kashmir had already discovered the power of social media as a political mobilizing tool. During 2010 unrest Kashmir discovered the potential of Facebook and Youtube and used them very effectively in mobilizing public opinion not just inside Kashmir but the internet savvy mobile phone using youth forced open a lot of new space outside Kashmir for discussing the conflict.
The structural understanding of what the Kashmiri youth had been witnessing for two decades of heightened uncertainty suddenly found a much wider audience. But what also made the 2010 protests vastly different from similar instances earlier was the use of these newfound tools to tell personnel stories. The images broadcasted on these sites were so much different from what Kashmir watchers were used to in the mainstream media.
Kashmiri youth broke some barriers of isolation and represented themselves directly like never before, and more importantly events were reported over the social media in their ‘proper’ context.
The Kashmir narrative was changed somewhat from a mere human rights perspective to a wider political context. According to one estimate there are more than 50000 Internet users in the valley. And most of youth used websites like Youtube and Facebook for disseminating information in spite of security establishment trying to crush dissent and become gatekeepers.
But, a big question is that what is the difference between Arab world and Kashmir valley in terms of impact of this new media on policymakers and for the rest of world.
The “Arab Spring” is only the most visible example of the impact of technology and social media on policymaking, social movements, and protest. Globally, there are now more than 4 billion cell phone users—six out of every 10 people on the planet. This means that the potential for revolts similar to the Arab Spring exists far beyond the Middle East.
In one the most powerful videos of 2010 unrest in Kashmir a young boy captured his friend, who was shot and died a few days later, being taken to a hospital for surgery. The video went viral on Youtube affecting thousands in a moving testimony. Yet nothing changed like a year later a similar video in another place far away in Sidi Bouzid, a small landlocked city in the heart of Tunsia, set the stage for the Arab Spring light years away from the eyes of the world’s media.
It was here that a 26- year-old street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, fed up of years of police harassment poured paint fuel over his body and set himself alight. The mass uprisings – aided by the organizing power of Twitter and Facebook – spread fast and furious, knocking Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power on January 14, before sweeping across the continent towards Egypt and rest of the Arab World.
Today the political discourse in the Arab world has completely changed and three unpopular governments have fallen, but nothing changed in Kashmir. But it certainly made the over 10 million Indian online community aware that the disgruntled in Kashmir were not merely the aged Hurriyat gentlemen on TV screens.
It led to increased international media interest in the Kashmir, but foreign governments refused to be drawn in into the conflict. That is the difference between Arab rising and Kashmir uprising.