Virtual stones, real handcuffs

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The crackdown on street protesting and stone pelting has reached to cyber world with police booking people for instigating unrest in south Kashmir’s Islamabad town. Shazia Yousuf reports

 

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Kashmir’s street wars had already reached the cyber world, as the valley witnesses an agitation for a third summer in a row.Kashmiris were using popular video sharing and social networking sites to share videos and opinions on the ground situation right from the Amarnath land row agitation in 2008.

Now police is also there, scanning and booking the virtual world activists – physically.
Police drive took off from the Islamabad district where Mirwaiz south Kashmir, Qazi Yasir was booked under “Public Safety Act” with one ground being instigating protests on social networking website Facebook.

Police has identified several Facebook users who they claim instigate violence through their provocative remarks on the website.

This has added to the resentment in youth, many of whom are already angry over the government curbs.

“What do they expect from Kashmiri youth – silence?”Asks Sahil, (name changed) a 22-year-old management student from interior Srinagar.

“They imposed curfew in Kashmir, local media was not allowed to work, SMS service was banned, and even in some districts cellular companies were asked to shut down their services, we were made to watch only what their media wanted us to, amid all this chaos if they expect us to be silent then they are wrong,” Sahil blurts out.

“I keep updating people about everything that comes to me, even the slogans that I hear from mosques,” he adds.

Unlike earlier, when the cyber-warriors armed with their mobile phones would capture and upload videos of street protests and events on Youtube, the priority this time has shifted to sharing information on networking sites like Facebook, making authorities to call it a “major threat to the public order”.

“During Amarnath land row, I captured almost all big processions in my camera and uploaded them on Youtube, but this year when they put whole valley under curfew and didn’t allow any peaceful marches, I could hardly get anything to upload so I spent my time in sharing links, pictures and updating my status about the happenings around,” says a 23 year old blogger from Srinagar.

“During the Amarnath land row, Youtube would throw up more than 400 videos on single search of Kashmir protests. As they didn’t let us do that today, we found alternate way of keeping world updated,” the blogger adds.

“Facebook tehreek (movement)” as they call it has become a novel way of registering the anger. This digital war is unleashed by the techno savvy youth brigade.

Though the cyber war is three year old now, the crackdown is forcing the youth to look for alternatives.

“Risks are always there, you just need to find alternate ways,” says 18-year-old Fahad (name changed), creator of an online group – the forgotten massacres.

Fahad and two of his friends started the group three months back to document the massacres of Kashmir, “We got a huge response, some 1000 members in 2 months, many foreigners and NRK’s had joined in, there would be huge discussions,” Fahad says.

Though the group turned out to be success, it put Fahad and his friends at risk as the names of administrators were visible.

In response to the recent crackdown, Fahad changed the group into a page. “Many people were joining our group, we couldn’t cross check their identities, we knew nothing about them and they were getting to know everything about us, so we played safe,” Fahad adds.

Reacting to the policing several Facebook users have shied away from the digital battle ground especially in the south Kashmir where FIR’s have been lodged against some.

Yet there are many who believe that scanning by police and agencies will not be able to put any checks on Facebook usage.

“The anonymity it (internet) offers makes it safest, I run more than 4 groups, with only one by my real name, they can easily stop street protests by bullets and curfews but handling digital protests will give them a tough time. Facebook users play multiple roles, they are news seekers, news reporters and what not,” says another active Facebook user.

“Using pseudonym or taking precautions while responding to unknown friend requests can keep you away from vulnerability,” he adds.

Though social networking sites have served as the platform where likeminded meet and discuss, many doubt whether allegations of using the network for instigation has any grounds.

“I doubt whether people need any provocations here. It is the authorities who by media gags, and curfews provoke people to wage war against them. We don’t need to tell lies for proving our point. Every time we upload anything, it is always truth,” says 23 year old Abrar (name changed), a university student.

“Most of the times it is war against the authorities in response to their curfews, media gags and cellular shutdowns, there still may be a few who try to use it for provocations,” adds Abrar.

Recently BBC in one of its reports quoted a stone pelting youth saying, “We use Facebook, twitter, and blogs to try and tell the world what’s happening and inspire others to join us.”

Apart from serving as the only contact between Kashmiri people in troubled times, the alternate media has opened a parallel window to Kashmiris studying or working abroad. Aarif, 28, (name changed) a computer professional in Gulf says he joined Facebook this year to get the “most reliable version” of situation – “people’s version”.

“During Amarnath land row, I relied more on Youtube, but since they didn’t allow any processions this time and media too was curbed, I joined Facebook. It is very informative, people share information, links, pictures. I take part in discussions,” Arif says.

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