Author: Saadut
•10:48 PM

Growing reach and accessibility of Internet in the past decade, breaking all geo-political barriers, allowed easy dissemination of information and propagation of ideas. In 2009 when we got introduced to Twitter, the Yahoo rooms and Orkut generation was still weary of the reach of social networks. With not much of an idea about Twitter, many of us joined, only to be the early birds there. For much of early days Twitter and Facebook remained a discovery in progress, with limited reach and participation. The 2009 of Kashmir found minimal audience on such platforms. Even though then some social media campaigns were launched by tweeples from Kashmir, including #FreeFaizan , most of the traffic on social media was generated after 2010 events of the valley, where chocking of alternate channels by the state pushed many people towards social networks. I remember hearing the news of Machil fake encounter and the following Tufail Mattoo killing, which provided the ignition and fuel to 2010 protests, from personal friends and not on social networks. A feeling of helpless disgust followed this news. Howard Zinn had famously said “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it” but Kashmir was no democracy and its people never treated as subjects by the state. Few of the early twitter users from Kashmir, who I knew used it exclusively for personal social networking, got baptized into known voices from Kashmir in later years.

Since early adopters of social media were few and audience fewer, its impact and reach was also limited. I remember in 2010 my follower count on Twitter kept fluctuating between 920 to 1150, of which only 20% were from Kashmir. Contrast to this Facebook was growing faster than other platforms, with its ability to allow friend requests be vetted, functionality to create pages and groups, and comments on posts forming a conversation trail. So when recently a local journalist I have never seen or met, blamed my Twitter handle for contributing to the 2010 “*my twitter handle* the man who stirred the blood of the Kashmiris with his Tweets for Azadi in 2010 turmoil” (am not even pointing to his grammar mistakes here), I could not but laugh enough at his knowledge. The social media anger against the 2010 killings in Kashmir was mainly seen on Facebook and not on Twitter. There were dedicated FB pages updating about the happening in Kashmir, like ‘Bekaar Jamaath’ (this group got 14,000 page likes in few months of 2010), ‘Koshur Rebel’, ‘Sangbaaz’, ‘Aalav’ etc. A Washington Post report of 2nd September, 2010, wrote ‘Muslims use Facebook, YouTube in Kashmir fight. Web becomes tool in resistance to Indian rule’. While there is no denying that our Twitter handles did protest the mayhem of 2010, but since the audience and follower count on Twitter was very less, its reach was limited & such protests remained feeble and unnoticed. An overwhelming majority of protest traffic was generated on FaceBook only, where discussion groups and pages were dedicated to the 2010 events. And that’s the reason why reports from International media do not even mention Twitter their ‘2010 report on social media use in Kashmir’ (contrary to the claim of the knowledgeable journalist from Kashmir).

The State Watches You !

The state not only aggressively kept monitoring social networks during and after the 2010 mayhem in Kashmir, they also forced many arrests silencing those protesting voices. Yet still, post 2010 not only proved to be a watershed in the political arrangements of Kashmir (even though some politicians still refuse to learn from those tragic years), it also increased the participation of people towards social media, as an alternative medium to speak up. And it was in the post 2010 years that Twitter use grew in Kashmir, not only opening up voices but also increasing covert state surveillance. While anonymity on social media in uncertain Kashmir could be seen as a safety cover, it also allowed surveillance to mingle anonymously with these users from Kashmir, often pretending to be sympathetic to their cause. Many arrests of anonymous Facebook admins from downtown Srinagar in the following year were made after a covert media person (handle) had befriended them and succeeded in meeting them in person.

Some time ago I was called to meet a very senior ‘non civil’ official. As I waited in his office, a senior officer from his staff asked “are you Mr Saadut?” I nodded “but how do you know me?” He stood up and shook my hands warmly (and as if awestruck) “we have been following your social media for long.” Suddenly his other colleagues, also senior officers, whispered something to the first officer, smiled in some agreement, came out to shake my hands, one even embracing me. Found that, not only did they know me in both real and virtual form, they subscribed to my views and posts. Moral of the story, a) you are not as anonymous as you think and b) there are thinking humans inside the establishment too, who feel like you.

Honey Pot !!

As anger on ground increased due to political anarchy and policies of Indian government, thousands of genuine voices joined social media to express themselves. As is with the chaff of the grain, along with genuine voices came some dubious traffic too. As if covert surveillance was not enough to bother about, some ‘honey pots’ too joined the #FreeKashmir fray. In a peculiar case that I studied for long, a ‘honey pot’ had befriended seven Kashmiri handles over a period of two years, claiming intimacy to each of the seven separately. At a given time, at least three ‘virtual relationships’ were found to be running parallel. Over four years, nine Kashmiri twitter handles had fallen prey, out of which four had been forced out of Twitter after their anonymous mask had been exposed. When I stumbled on a treasure of ‘chat & mail logs’ (don’t ask me how), found all handles had been fed different lies, often pitching one against the other, and yet ironically none of the nine handles never had ever seen or known the ‘honey pot’ in real. While all of them had Azadi on TL, some of them were pursuing ‘cross border trade via private chats’, other naive ones were offering hearts. The ‘summer of betrayal’ had passed all of them & ‘Kashmir jehad’ morphed into ‘love jehad’.

Social media has the potential of creating a larger than life image of people you may have not seen or met, exclusively based on their Timeline patterns. In many instances these images may match with the persona, but in some cases such images could be cultivated by over ambitions people. A Twitter handle from up north (any like him out there) has this peculiar habit of copying tweets, DP’s and even bio’s, only to sound more intelligent and educated. Such people, mistake social networks for some class test that they can copy and pass. 

We The Hypocrites !

Social networks are also a classic case of hypocrisy for some. In some people, disenchantment with everything else morphs into rebellious tone, only for wanting to sound a part of the popular sentiment. In the following years, on social media I stumbled on many such people. Sample this, a businessman who supplies to the local Indian army core area during the day, converts into an anti-establishment voice in the evening. An engineer, who used political connections (his local MLA) to get transferred from south Kashmir district to Srinagar, lambasts the same system in leisure. A little known journalist who has been groomed by many Army officials and is frequently seen in their company, becomes critical of other free speakers among civilians. The north Kashmir boy whose parents pleaded with the local pro India leader for his career, claims to the exclusive Azadi rebel. Another social media handle espouses the Azadi dream on TL and reverts to ‘love jihad’ in direct messaging (actually many of them). My intention is not to be prying into their private lives, but ‘thou shalt not blame others, for what you practice’. We are not each other’s conscience keepers, but let’s draw a line between personal lives and our virtual social media avtars. There has to be a difference between working for the administrative state and working FOR the DEEP state. The administrative state has support systems not only in employees, but contractors, suppliers, shopkeepers, workmen, peasantry and even laborers. And the ‘deep state’ has only covert people, who assume different identities and work for something else. Tragically the myopic we, common people, only see and blame the administrative state as the villain, who in fact has no power over things in a conflict zone.

Social media is a paradigm shift, in terms of allowing common people to speak up, where conventional media is either throttled in conflict situations or driven by political interests. In such scenarios the only platform where common people can express freely, present facts or voice an opinion is social media. And it has got to fore some daring and positive voices from Kashmir, who have fearlessly taken to speak the truth. Not only have these voices been at the forefront of campaigns demanding justice for the victims of this conflict, they have also increased awareness about Kashmir to the outside world. Even if these voices may have contributed incremental in bringing out awareness about Kashmir, this contribution is huge, especially keeping in mind the gigantic state sponsored media machine they are pitted against. It is these honest voices that are the torch bearers of the Kashmiri narrative. They stand distinctly apart in the confusion of social media on Kashmir. God speed !

Following the uproar on hounding of certain social media users India, the Indian Union government was forced to accept in the Supreme Court ‘that posting comments on Facebook and other social media would not be an offence under Section 66A of the IT Act if such comments related to freedom of speech and expression’. However, since Kashmir is usually seen outside the domain of mainland India, political forces hounding voices like mine on social media is not a new thing. Having lived in the Papa Kishtiwari Kashmir and not wanting to end up Haji Yousuf’esque, I shall hence limit my political criticism on social media. I shall however continue to speak in whatever form and measure I can.

Like Meinhof said “Protest is when I say I don't like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don't like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.” We all here are merely protestors, raising a voice. None of us can claim to be any resistance to the status quo unless we refuse to be a part of it, any part of it.

Will any of those sermonizing ‘resistance’, give up your passport, your univ, your job, your amenities and your identity card? 


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