Kashmiri youth wage online struggle
By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR - Rasik Rasheed (not his real name) has been cooped up at home due to
curfews and strikes for nearly three months now, but Kashmiri youngsters like
him are not busy with their studies - they’re working around the clock to wage
an online resistance.
They spend hours uploading and watching videos on YouTube that depict life
under the Indian government's security regime, sharing their views and slogans
on social networking sites like Facebook. At least 65 people, mostly teenage
boys and young men in their 20s, have been killed in the latest round of
anti-India protests in Srinagar, the summer capital, in the last 11 weeks,
according to the Daily Telegraph.
The youths use Facebook to create a weekly routine for the
protests, discuss ways to hold Kashmiri leaders to account and share news
updates, according to the Associated Press. "I want to contribute to the
freedom struggle in my own humble way. How does it matter if I don't go out and
engage Indian security forces in the streets?" Rasik said in an interview with
Inter Press Service. "I cause them more damage by these videos which depict how
ruthlessly they treat Kashmir." Young Kashmiris are uploading video shot
secretly from windows showing government troops causing damage to vehicles and
property during curfews, says AP.
As for his parents who pay for his Internet fees, "they are happy that I am
contributing to the freedom struggle in a different way", explained Rasik.
The Internet's reach is pushing young people like Rasik to vary the styles of
their resistance against Indian rule in Kashmir.
From an armed rebellion in 1989, the opposition to Indian rule in this restive
state is morphing into an "ammunition-free" struggle, one where youth make use
of both traditional and more sophisticated methods of protest such as Facebook,
YouTube and Twitter.
In the online world, many operate under names like "Dodmut Kashur" (Scalded
Kashmiri), "Aam Nafar" (Common Man), "Bleeding Paradise", "Quit Kashmir" and
"Exiled Stranger". "Independence Day! Not for us," read one of the posts on
Facebook on India's Independence Day on August 15.
"It [the Internet] is emerging as an alternative media in Kashmir because these
youth most often upload videos which depict the suffering of the people, which
at times is ignored by the mainstream media, wittingly or unwittingly," said
Sheikh Showkat, who teaches human rights in Kashmir University.
Broadband Internet services were allowed in Kashmir in 2005. "Within no time,
these techno-savvy youth figured out how its use can outstrip the traditional
media," Showkat added.
"I think it does help in how people visualize and relate to the information
they get about Kashmir," said Angana Chatterji, a US-based anthropologist who
advocates independence for Kashmir at international forums. "I show these
videos to participants at international forums, telling them this is what I
have seen in Kashmir. It encourages debate and enables discussion."
Rasik said, "The web teaches you how it can override barriers. The authorities
may be the gatekeepers to mainstream media, but not here. Such is the power of
the web which we are seeking to use effectively."
Kashmir's troubles date back to 1947, when Britain granted India independence
and the Muslim-dominated areas became part of Pakistan. A United Nations
resolution, in the meantime, gave Kashmiris the option to join either
Hindu-dominated India or Pakistan or to become independent. But Kashmiris had
no chance to make a choice as their homeland was claimed by both India and
Roughly a third of modern-day Kashmir is administered by Pakistan while the
rest is under India. But it is an arrangement that has not been accepted by
many Kashmiris, and some youths living on the Indian side rose up in arms in
1989 in an insurgency that simmers to this day.
In more recent years, many Kashmiri youth have been using other forms or
protest as the use of violence has fallen out of favor. In the past two years,
there has been more street protests and pelting of Indian security officers
with stones rather than the violent attacks of earlier years.
"Kashmiris have realized the changing dynamics at the global level, violent
means of protest not accepted by global policy institutions. That is why they
are fashioning their struggle accordingly," said Professor Gul Mohammad Wani, a
political commentator who teaches in Kashmir University.
While Rasik is content with what he is doing at home, others combine both
protests on the streets and in cyberspace. A youth from uptown Srinagar, who
requested anonymity, says he juggles graffiti protests, cyber protests and
pelting stones at Indian security forces stationed here.
"I take time for all these activities. The only thing you need is your
commitment," he explained. "We want to convey to the world that it is not only
the gun which draws attention."
Thus far, there have been no arrests for using cyberspace for political
activity in Kashmir and no video-sharing or social networking website has been
blocked. More than 50,000 Internet connections are said to be working in
Still, Kashmiris “e-protesters” say they cannot risks, and the online forums
are most likely under Indian surveillance.
"These security agencies do not know about respecting intellectual freedom or
freedom of expression. They can pick you up any time if they come to know about
your involvement in e-protests," said one young person who asked to be called
Athar Parvaiz - Asia
Media Forum. Asia Media Forum is a space for journalists to share
insights on issues related to the media and their profession. It is coordinated
by IPS Asia-Pacific.)