Two Videos, Two Stories

For the last many years, social media is triggering decision-making within the government and society. Last week demonstrated it yet again when the Jammu and Kashmir administration reacted to two videos, both concerning the education sector

Mahiru Irfan, a little kid whose self-recorded video about online school work led to a drastic reduction of virtual classes on the orders of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

For the last many years now, the cell phone is emerging as the main change-maker. Equipped with the best cameras and linked to the global highway of information, the younger generation know how to reach people. Now even the government and the formal media follows the trends set by social media.

 Education being the key component of life, last week witnessed two major developments. In one, the son of a teacher committed suicide after recording a video highlighting the plight of his family in absence of the salary denied to his father for 30 days.  

 Shoaib Bashir Mir

Two days after he consumed poison in an apple orchard, Shoaib Bashir, 24, died in SMHS Srinagar on May 28. Son of a school teacher, Shoaib’s pre-suicide video stormed social media, a day later. He had expected a quick death but fate forced him to live for two days and reveal his crisis to his mother, Jamila His last words were: “Mother, I have consumed poison.”

“There is only one motive behind my suicide,” Shoaib says in the video. “For two and half years, my father hasn’t been paid. Our life has become miserable. I want my suicide to end the miseries of all the teachers who haven’t been paid.”

Bashir, his father, a militant was arrested in 1996 and acquitted in 1999. In 2005, he was appointed a temporary teacher. Eight years later in 2013, his services were regularized. In 2019, the new rulers of Naya Kashmir sought fresh verifications of the antecedents and Bashir’s salary stopped. For two and half years, Bashir and 630 others were not paid.

While Bashir continued working, the salary halt started reflecting at home. Shoaib, a student of B Ed (which he passed with flying colours as results came after his suicide), actually sought some money from his mother for some stenography course. He used to go for manual labour but it was becoming increasingly difficult to study and earn. Shoaib’s brother is pursuing BTech and his sister is in twelfth standard. Bashir had raised a bank loan but was unable to pay the EMI, which added to the family’s reputation in the Avil village, down south. The crop failure in their apple orchard for two years had added to the crisis.

This had landed the family in serious economic hardship to the extent that Shoaib sent his suicide-related video to his friend for upload because he had not an adequate data pack in his phone. By May 28, it was a viral video.

The government acted fast and released Rs 33 crore that was due to teachers across, whose salary was withheld on basis of police commentary across Kashmir’s 10 districts. These included one crore to Srinagar, Rs 5.5 crore to Budgam, Rs 2.25 crore to Ganderbal,  Rs 4.5 crore to Baramulla, Rs 4.25 crore to Kupwara, Rs 3.50 crore to Bandipore, Rs 5 crore to Anantnag, Rs 1.5 crore to Pulwama, Rs 3 crore to Kulgam, and Rs 2.5 crore to Shopian. The government said Kashmir had 17236 RReTs (Regularized Rehbar-e-Taleem Teachers) and ReTs and 16606 of them have already been transited to Teacher Grade II and III till now. However, of the remaining 630 cases, the transition of 363 RReTs is pending for want of deficiency or verification of requisite documents and not having clear CID verification remarks.

Mahiru Irfan

Soon after came another video. Unlike the Kulgam video, it had no element of violence.

It was just a 71-second video that took social media literally by storm forcing the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Executive, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to respond on Twitter. It was a six-year-old, Mahiru speaking on the crisis she was facing as a class one student.

Apparently addressed to Modi Sahab, the “adorable complaint” started with a greeting. “I am six-year-old and I am telling you about the Zoom classes. Why the kids who are just six-year-old are burdened by their teachers – Madam and Sir – with so much homework? This much of the load is for big kids. When I wake up my classes take place from 10 am to 2 pm. One is English, one is Maths, one is Urdu, then EVS, and then Computer,” she is heard saying. “This much of work is for baday banchon (grown-ups) who study in seventh, sixth and tenth. Modi Sahab, why are they giving us so much of work?”

Mahiru is the daughter of Irfan Ahmad, who works with a private construction company, and Rukhsar, who left teaching at Khanam’s Higher Secondary School when Mahiru was born. They live at Shalpora in the sprawling Batamaloo area of Srinagar. She has a 2-year old brother.

Rukhsar said Mahiru, one day, donned a red upper and went to her room and recorded the video. “In the video, you will see her looking towards something,” Rukhsar said. “She is actually looking towards the door fearing I might come and interrupt her.”

After the video was recorded, she showed it to her parents. They shared with some of their relatives. “We do not know how it went viral.” A simple family, they were frightened over the mass circulation of the video till the government recognised it and responded to it. Her appeal soon fetched results and triggered a policy change as directed by the Governor to lighten the pressure on school kids by putting a cap on the duration of online classes.

What is interesting and require acknowledgement is that the formal media has been running campaigns on both the issue for a long time now. This has not created any impact on the decision-makers in Jammu and Kashmir. Now when the issues were directly tackled by the social media users, it forced them to act. There lies the power of social media.

This also explains why the governance structure is so keen to manage social media, at least in places like Jammu and Kashmir. Now people desiring to serve the government as employees need to have their social media accounts clean. In fact, a few dismissed in recent days had social media issues, if one goes by the media reports. As social media is getting powerful, the formal media is dwarfing in its status and would require more work to stay relevant. 

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