India attempts to offline Kashmir

Struggling to retain control of streets and college campuses here, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to seek assurance for her government not getting disposed of anytime soon, not at least for two months now. Many in India, including journalists like Barkha Dutt, believe it is time for the “center” to take charge of the situation and impose Governor’s rule in the most “prized” territories which India is “losing”.

To ensure that the ‘loss’ is not India’s, the first thing that Mehbooba Mufti did on her return from New Delhi was to impose a one month ban on 22 social media websites and messenger aaps, including facebook, twitter, whatsapp etc. This is done to stop the circulation of what government believes are “unverified objectionable and inflammatory material/content” by “elements inimical to public order and tranquility”. High speed mobile internet, 3G and 4G, is already blocked while as 2G and broadband are working. Schools and colleges have been officially closed down more than two times for days together in the last three weeks.

These are the palpable results the revolutionary counter-violence is achieving in Kashmir. The security ecosystem is now counting the bits and bytes to control a resurgent population. All other algorithms have failed the test of time. As the latest phase of killing spree started last year after the killing of Commander Burhan Wani, complimented by mass blinding’s, of young and old, men and women, and mass arrests, have not achieved the desired deterrence, efforts are being made to block all sources of authentic news coming out from Kashmir. The lens of the Indian media does not enjoy the monopoly any longer. Same is the case with the monopoly of violence. The Indian State and its client regime in Kashmir are struggling to cement the leakages developing in their control of the place, ensured through the presence of close to a million heavily armed military personnel, caused by counter-violence.

For a long time, Indian security establishment, the mushrooming think-tanks, with a battery of Kashmir experts, and a host of Indian journalists stationed permanently in houseboats here, have fooled themselves into believing that India is able to “control” Kashmir through strategic thinking. The ban on internet in Kashmir is strategic thinking for them. In fact, it has been the scale of violence, the sheer difference of numbers, which has helped India gain an upper hand.

Earlier, successive governments have cracked down upon any assembly of people, disallowing pro-freedom parties to organize meetings, even book launches, banning student politics, through use of violence to deny people any space for political mobilization. With the introduction of social media in Kashmir, people made an effective use of the platform for political mobilization. Not only pro-freedom groups and individuals but also the so-called mainstream pro-India political parties use social media to propagate their politics. Within Kashmir, however, the number of pro-freedom individuals clearly outnumbers those few employed by the government to run propaganda for them. Losing the battle both in the streets and in the online spaces, the most recent algorithm suggests that social media, a powerful new medium through which the marginalized people around the world speak truth to power, be banned in the Valley.

Why? Because the State is scared of the truth and it is looking for cover.

The Doval doctrine is not working. Winning hearts and minds (WHAM) has failed long ago. Insaniyat and Jhamooriyat are known to the people of Kashmir as a means to buy more time to deepen teeth of Indian occupation. Self-rule and Autonomy have been consumed by the dustbin of history. There is only one thing that is gaining in terms of the traction it is getting; the resolve of people to be free.

India is scared of a facebook post. India is scared of a poem. India is scared of a video. India is scared of the smile of a martyr. India is scared of a girl in hijab pelting stones. India is scared of a boy helping his friend reach to safety​. India is scared of the people coming together.

What will India do? Turn red, buttocks of a student? Tear open her skull? Or simply shoot them dead? Indian State is tired. The people are not.

What is being written on social media or what is being streamed live by smartphone users in Kashmir is nothing new to the people here. Violence is the language through which the Indian State speaks to the people here. It is through such overwhelming violence, as seen in the videos made viral recently on facebook, that for decades now “high voter turnouts”, translated by the Indian media as a vote for India, have been made possible. Indian Army have barged in houses and asked people to “come out and vote willingly”. That is how democracy has survived.

For India to assert itself as the largest democracy of the world, it has to kill a certain number of Kashmiris every year. Also, it has to make sure that no cry, no wail, no slogan, is amplified enough to travel beyond the geographic confines of the Valley. It has to carry out an incremental genocide without letting anyone know. Thus, the social media, to a large extend a better democratic space than India, has to get an axe. With this ban, the government is hoping to bring “calm” to the Valley.

The apologists for the government while justifying the ban also argue that social media is used to organize protests and stone-pelting. While as this is not entirely wrong, they fail to explain what means are used to organize protests in the times when Internet is completely banned?

The most recent spell of counter-violence has emerged from college and school campuses across Kashmir. This has, yet again on its own, answered one more question’s around which many have in past accused the pro-freedom leadership. It was said that the “future” of those who are not part of the “fringe”, the famous 5 %, is put on stake by the strike calendars issued by Hurriyat Conference. With government ordering the shutdown of schools and suspension of class work, it becomes obvious that those pelting stones from inside the college campuses are the same who do it in the streets.

People here wait for such people to raise another question. If they are the same stone-pelters, why are they not burning down the schools? With social media banned, these questions are hard to come by. The propagandists are out of their jobs. As I close typing this piece on my smartphone, stone-pelting has started in Chowkbal Kupwor, some 170 kms north of Srinagar.

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Basharat Ali Written by:

Basharat Ali is Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. He blogs at www.basharatalisays.wordpress.com

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