Digital Uprising

  • Publish Date: May 1 2017 2:04AM
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  • Updated Date: May 1 2017 2:04AM
Digital Uprising

                                                      Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

Social media videos are propping up the competing narratives and outrages

The last week saw dozens of videos highlighting the atrocities by the government forces going viral on social media in Kashmir. The videos came up in reaction to the fury caused across the mainland India by the video in which Kashmiri youth are shown heckling the CRPF jawans.

One such video which competed for attention with the heckling video and almost neutralized its impact was the one in which soldiers use a young man as a human shield against stone pelters. In the video, the man Farooq Dar is tied to the bonnet of a jeep to forestall the stone throwing as the security vehicles drive through the Budgam villages going to polls.

Another video shows a soldier slapping and hitting teenage boys held inside an armoured vehicle and forcing them to hurl profanities at Pakistan. One of the boys with his face bloodied by beating is shown crying. Yet another shows the forces similarly beating the three youth and forcing them to shout Pakistan Murdabad slogans. Here again, one boy’s face is bloodied.

It was to stop these videos that the government had shutdown mobile and broadband internet on polling days for Srinagar and Anantnag by-election scheduled for April 9 and April 12. The expectation was that the consequent information vacuum will disconnect thousands of networked youth and facilitate voting. But all these calculations went awry as eight youth were killed during Srinagar by-poll when fearless youth advanced towards polling booths. This forced the government to postpone the Anantnag bypoll.

But no sooner the internet was restored than a barrage of videos flooded the Facebook and Twitter and circulated on Whatsapp. Among the first to be uploaded was the one showing the heckling of the CRPF personnel, filmed by an unknown protester. But it was soon picked up by the sections of national media, particularly television channels, some of which aired hysterical debates over the “humiliation” of the soldiers.

“The video was apparently put online by youth to show off some machismo. That they could defeat the soldiers wielding guns with stones and still let them go,” says the columnist Naseer Ahmad. “But some television channels as usual put a spin on this. Except for one youth who hits at the sleeping bag of one CRPF personnel, all others are heard exhorting one another not to beat them and let them go as they are poor people”.

However, if anything, the social media videos have confronted New Delhi with a new challenge in Valley. The android phones with camera and internet have given people the power to record security operations and instantly upload these to the social media. In a matter of minutes, these videos go viral, generating public outrage where security personnel are shown torturing the youth and a sense of triumph where youth are forcing the personnel on the defensive in stone-pelting. For every knot of youth throwing stones or protesting, there are many who are filming the whole scene. Most of these videos not only become a source of embarrassment for the forces but also deepen the alienation on the ground.

“Their circulation doesn’t remain limited to Valley only. They are seen across India and Pakistan. Besides, Kashmiri and Pakistani diaspora circulates these around the world,” says PDP leader Abdul Wahid Parra. “So, what is happening on a remote street in Kashmir and would ordinarily not have been known beyond a few eye-witnesses comes in the knowledge of millions of people. A humiliation and torture of one boy becomes the humiliation of all Kashmir”.

And similarly, the video of beating of one security personnel horrifies the large sections of people in the rest of India, generating frenzied television debates which become a cause of more anger in Valley where people see these as inherently biased against them.

“Social media videos have thus emerged as a new weapon in the conflict on Kashmir. And the problem is there is little defence against it,” says Naseer. “Only option available is a permanent shutting down of internet. This can be done during turmoil but can’t be done when peace is restored. But then recorded videos can always be stored and uploaded once internet comes back on”.