Virtual Kashmir: Politicians Improve Their Tolerance Levels?

by Masood Hussain
SRINAGAR: With the virtual world emerging as a clear extension of real-world life, the politicians in Kashmir are gradually becoming tolerant of the abuse. Internet abuse is normal and in conflict places like Kashmir, it is widespread.
“I think the tolerance level has increased a lot but the quantum of abuse has not unfortunately seen any reduction,” Jehangir Raina, an entrepreneur, who understands IT better, said. “It is a populism that matters now and the self-imposed restrictions that we once exhibited in talking to elders, seniors and people in public life, are going down.”
Jehangir Raina

Kashmir has a huge cell phone penetration and the internet connectivity has improved the overall connectivity and participation in public debates. Kashmir is one of the few places where social networking websites have a mass membership. They share information and comment on public issues including politics, conflict and human rights.

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Initially, the people would get unnerved by the abuse they would get on their walls and in their inboxes. Omar Abdullah, the NC working president used to blog a lot because he closed shutters on that because of personal abuse. He finally took to Twitter by storm and s perhaps one of the most powerful individuals who is using Twitter to connect with the people. It was this distinction that got him in India’s most powerful list by the Indian Express, recently.
“People in public life ignore the abuse because they know getting into an argument will add to the crisis,” Raina said. “The level of decency in public comments is slightly low and it is not restricted to Kashmir alone.” He said the IT revolution has made right-wing politics so normal across the globe that now there are no inhibitions among people in expressing what they believe and feel it.
Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are getting the maximum share of adverse commentary on their walls and in-boxes. Even in certain cases, the people in the separatist camp are being advisedly commented upon especially when Kashmir goes through a bad patch on the security front. But this is not preventing either of the players in Kashmir’s ideologically split political space from leaving the space.
Off late, all the separatist leaders are using IT and the virtual world to put their posts across. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is one of the tech-savvy separatists who uses the best of all virtual spaces.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq says the virtual world is a mixed bag of opportunities. “I do not see a lot of shift in abuse and trolling but yes eventually people agree to disagree which is no way is bad,” Mirwaiz said. “It is a very fast medium and it restricts the dependence of people in public life on formal media. In fact, there is an interactive advantage that the formal media lacks.”

Dr Mirwaiz Molvi Umar Farooq

The young and well-travelled cleric said that Facebook Live and other opportunities that the new medium has offering is somehow helping the people in public life to stay connected. “It is a space that is very important and will be crucial for all societies including Kashmir,” Mirwaiz said. “Nobody in public life can afford to learn this space in coming days.”

Even the team that manages Syed Ali Geelani’s public relations are also using IT effectively to connect with more people. The speeches and the statement that Geelani issues first have a video on their pages.

Tanveer Sadiq said he is witnessing a change. “There is a lot of tolerance on part of the people who are in public life as people resort to rants while expressing themselves. I feel the people in politics in Kashmir and elsewhere have improved their tolerance level,” Tanveer said. “It is not a fact that only people in public life have improved their tolerance level. The fact, what I see, is the level of comments have improved. Earlier it was outright abuse, then it came to the level of insult and now I see more of sarcasm.”
Tanveer Sadiq

Tanveer said that the biggest change he has observed in virtual Kashmir is that people listen as well. “They listen and then eventually they agree to disagree which is something very important change that I see,” he insisted.

Waheed Para is PDP’s young brigade leader who is using social networking sites very effectively to put his point across. On Wednesday when he reacted to Shahid Afridi’s Kashmir related tweet, he was literally roasted for his comment. The response saw him being trolled for most of the day and it did not exclude personal abuse.
Waheed Parra

“I love the people reacting to my tweets because people have a right to react to what you say,” Parra said. “It is an engagement that is important and it is not any violence.” He said there is no harm in people reacting to what you do. “This is a vital tool in making people in public life accountable,” he said. “I do engage with most of them and that is what the conversation means.”

But given the use of virtual space in airing the concerns of the real world, the virtual Kashmir is getting bigger than what it seems. “In the future politics of Kashmir, the virtual space is going to be more important and decisive,” Raina said. “Do not see it just a case of the hobby, it is getting hot and real.”


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