December 2017 News

Use Of Social Media Comes Full Circle In Valley

10 December 2017
Times of India
Aarti Tikoo Singh

New Delhi: From 2010 onwards, when social media in Kashmir was a tool best optimised by radicalised youth, to 2017, when ordinary mothers are making appeals to their militant sons to return home, the use of new media in the Valley has come a full circle. Recently, a mother in Kashmir sparked an unprecedented phenomenon on social media. Footballer Majid Khan, who'd joined Lashkar-e-Taiba, responded to his mother's plaintive cry in a video that went viral on social media, by returning home. 'I think it created a stir because mother-son relationship in Kashmiri society is very important. A wailing mother's cries will always create social pressure against militancy,' Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri cultural critic said. Inspired by Majid's mother, many more matriarchs across Kashmir are making video appeals, asking their sons to give up guns and return home. Mothers of teenage Irfan Ahmed Rather of Sharifabad Tral, who recently joined Hizbul Mujahideen; Sajjad Ahmad Shah of Chogal Handwara; Nasir Ahmad Mir of Brath Sopore; Aaquib Iqbal Malik of Ringpath Noorabad, Kulgam; and Malik Asif of Gund, have made similar appeals. Until 2010, there were few Kashmiris on social media. In fact, the only prominent Kashmiri public figure active in cyberspace was then CM Omar Abdullah. The value of social media was so unrecognised that he was berated for being a 'Twitter CM'. Common Kashmiris were on Facebook as individuals, getting connected with old friends, some lost due to time and circumstances and some due to displacement triggered by terrorism. They would often spar with each other over politics, but many were also engaged in social and cultural discourse over Kashmiri language, cuisine and humour. Completely disconnected from politics, many entertained themselves in a frivolous group called 'Bekaar Jamaath' (idle group). But, when 2010 mob-rioting and stone-pelting broke out, something unprecedented happened. 'Bekaar Jamaath' Facebook group was converted by its administrators into 'Aalaw' (a call). The anonymous group declared that its objective - Kashmir's freedom - was an 'Islamic obligation'. Within days, the group grew, with thousands of followers mobilizing youth in Kashmir to take to the streets. The overtly Islamist Facebook group remained a headache for the security forces for several years, as the state was unfamiliar with social media technology and its uses. The government grappled with ways and means to block mushrooming of groups like 'Aalaw' and struggled with youth being mobilized to riot on the streets. Aalaw was interrupted almost two dozen times before it was finally shut down. Recommended By Colombia A police officer said, 'Kashmir's arrival on social media was late. Perhaps because access to the Internet, smart phones and mobile networking and upward trend in literacy coincided with the violent unrest in 2010. It took us a while to figure out what was happening. We had no idea that social media could be so powerful. Our initial tendency was to just ban it whole hog during the crisis.' Hizb commander Burhan Wani, a product of the 2010 unrest that had led to renewed militancy, took social media propaganda to a different level by posting his (and his group's) pictures with AK-47s in 2015. He remained the social media poster boy for the radicalised youth until he was killed by security forces in July 2016. It triggered more rioting, pushing many of his 'fans' to join terror groups. From 2010 to 2017, the use of social media in Kashmir has come a full circle. Today, not only has CM Mehbooba Mufti joined Twitter, but her PDP has a team dedicated to campaign for peace. J&K Police is also on social media giving quick updates about encounters and 'sacrifice of its martyrs'. 'But now, many parents are coming to us and asking us to bring back their misled children. We try to help as much as we can by facilitating and circulate their appeals,' a senior police officer in Srinagar said. He added that security forces have always taken parents' help to get their sons to surrender. 'We do it even during encounters. Asking militants to surrender on parents' appeals is our first policy.'

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