India is losing Kashmir in the virtual world like it is in the streets

Struggling to retain control of the streets and college campuses here, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti went to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week. Something had to be done to bring back ‘calm’ to the Valley.

The first thing Mufti did upon her return from New Delhi was to impose a one-month ban on 22 social media websites and messenger applications.

This was done to stop the circulation of what the government believes are “unverified, objectionable and inflammatory material/content through the medium of these social networking sites and internet messaging services without any accountability, thereby endangering public life and property and causing unrest/disharmony in the state.”

High-speed internet, 3G and 4G, have also been blocked, but 2G is still working.

The social media ban is a sign that India is incapable of maintaining its hold over Kashmiris through violence. The killing of Burhan Wani, mass blinding of civilians by the use of pellet guns, arrests and police beatings have failed to have the desired effect. As Kashmiris refuse to stay silent, the Indian state has no choice but to completely muzzle their voices.

Earlier, successive governments used to crack down on any assembly of people, whether it was pro-freedom parties organising meetings or civilians holding regular book launches. Student politics were also banned. Space for mobilisation was non-existent. However, the advent of social media provided people with a new tool.

Pro-India political parties use social media to propagate their politics as well, but they are easily outnumbered by those who are critical of the Indian state. The fact is that India is losing out in the virtual space just as it is in the streets. Whether you pelt stones or tweet, you scare those in power.

The state is scared of a Facebook post. It’s scared of a poem. It’s scared of a video. India is simply scared of the truth.

Thanks to social media, Indian atrocities can be broadcasted directly to the outside world. But while the news might be new for foreign audiences, violence is something Kashmiris know intimately well. Violence is the only language the Indian state converses in with the people of Kashmir.

It’s through coercion that pro-India parties win elections in Kashmir. Indian soldiers go from house to house and force people to vote. Indian media might spin these votes as ‘votes for India,’ that Kashmiris ‘came out willingly to vote,’ but we all know what measures the ‘world’s largest democracy’ resorts to in order to survive here.

The Indian security establishment, the mushrooming think-tanks with their ‘Kashmir experts’, and a host of Indian journalists foolishly believe that India will be able to pacify Kashmir with this ban. Apologists argue that the social media ban will help the government prevent violence and stone-pelting.

What they don’t understand is that, in their own strategic parlance, they need to win the hearts and minds of the people first. Alas, it is wishful thinking, for the only thing in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris is azadi. As I type this article, stone-pelting has started in Chowkbal Kupwor, some 170 kilometres from Srinagar.

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