soniasarkar26

Blood and blogs

Posted on: December 6, 2011

From uploading pictures of violence to writing blogs, the young men and women of Kashmir are using the Internet to voice their protest, says Sonia Sarkar

VOX POPULI: Students throwing stones at policemen in Jammu; (below) a screenshot of a blog on Kashmir

Sheikh Suhail can’t forget the blood in the streets. Since his childhood, the Srinagar student has been looking at violence in Kashmir. But the most traumatic moment of his 24-year-old life was when he saw his best friend die.

He can’t forget the moments — because they are on camera. Imran Ahmed Wani, 25, was gunned down by security men who fired at a crowd demonstrating against the transfer of forest land to the Amarnath shrine board in Bagh-E-Mehtab, seven kilometres from Srinagar, last year. Suhail caught the episode — from the moment Wani was shot to when he breathed his last inside an ambulance — on his cell phone.

“My cell phone camera captured how the bullet pierced Wani, and how we were stopped by the CRPF personnel when we were rushing him to the hospital. He died inside the ambulance,” recalls Suhail. Days after Wani’s death, Suhail uploaded the video clip on YouTube, the video-sharing website.

Suhail is just one of the many young men and women in Kashmir who are using the new media to voice their protest. They chase everyday demonstrations on the streets and capture them on their cell phones. They blog about incidents and share information on the Internet. They are the new citizen journalists of the Valley.

“The mainstream national and international media have failed to project the true picture of the (Kashmir) conflict. So now it’s our job to unfurl the truth,” says Suhail.

The trend is catching on because of the growing prevalence of mobile phones and Internet connections in the Valley. Internet cafés are mushrooming — Srinagar has 130 cafés — and there are some 1.6 million broadband and GPRS Internet users across Kashmir. According to a government official, half of Kashmir’s college-goers use the Internet extensively. And at least 300 videos show up on YouTube if you do a search with the words “Kashmir protests”.

Shaky and grainy clips show it all — protestors burning Indian flags and raising Islamic flags in downtown Srinagar on Independence Day; a pro-freedom procession on the streets; security forces beating up children in a city park; and people with bleeding faces lying on the road.

The titles of these videos are self-explanatory. “True Colours of CRPF”, “Battle of Kashmir”, “Killings in Kashmir”, “Barehanded Kashmiris being fired by police” and “Freedom Struggle in Kashmir” are the names of some of the more popular amateur videos posted on YouTube.

A few experts believe it’s a healthy trend for it keeps the young off the streets. Even a decade ago, the only form of protest for an unhappy Kashmiri youth was a demonstration that often led to a violent confrontation with security forces. “Any form of non-violent protest is the most mature way to break the vicious cycle of violence,” says Dr Arshad Hussain, consultant, department of psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar. “It has been observed that this form of protest is largely noticed and widely accepted across the world,” he says.

It’s also a way of recording contemporary history. Kashmir watcher Angana Chatterji, professor, department of social and cultural anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies, US, stresses that the videos help her understand the situation at ground zero. “Given the silence or skewed reportage in many mainstream sources, these videos are often useful and critical to learning about ground realities,” she says.

BBC journalist Suvojit Bagchi, who recently recorded a documentary New Media in Kashmir, based on the amateur videos filmed during the Amarnath land row, sees “cyber resistance” as the future media. “The nature of conflict reporting will gradually change to this form in the next 20 years,” he says.

Many blog to record their views on contemporary events. The subjects are varied — ranging from the forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits to the latest drama in the state assembly when chief minister Omar Abdullah resigned after being accused of being involved in a sex scandal.

Young Kashmiris have also been blogging about the Shopian tragedy — the abduction, gang rape and murder of two young women in May. Shazia Yousuf, a 24-year-old from Safakadal, writes a blog called ‘Letter to Asiya,’ one of the two allegedly killed by policemen. The blog reads: “What about you Asiya! How could a girl like you have so much courage? Seeing your dignity being torn into pieces… and then facing your abrupt end… How can you be so brave?”

Shazia, an MPhil student of mass communication and journalism in Kashmir University, describes herself as a “child of conflict”, whose tryst with violence began in 1990 when her uncle was shot at by security forces in the Valley.

“This letter is an account of an ordinary girl, discussing an ordinary girl, her ordinary issues and her precious life and dignity,” she says. “It is an expression of a daughter of a conflict-torn society who sees and fears that she can be the next victim of rape.”

Shazia believes in the power of her form of protest — the written word. “Earlier, a lot of young people picked up guns to protest against atrocities by the state. Now we have resorted to a non-violent yet stronger form of protest.”

Defence analyst Maroof Raza says that the blogs and Internet postings underline the issue of freedom. “Freedom means freedom from fear and freedom to express,” he says. “It is extremely important for the younger generation to express their frustration and resentment. It would be great if the blogs give us the right solution to the conflict.”

The blogs reflect the youth’s opinions and positions. If one post describes Kashmir as a land of “innumerable troopers, of desolate streets, of armoured military vehicles, and innumerable checkpoints, of sandbag bunkers with guns pointing out,” another charts out the “contours and contents” of an Independent Kashmir that will “welcome all displaced Kashmiris, including the Kashmiri Pandits and those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”

Some see these outpourings as grievances that need to be redressed. Ex-Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Kumar Doval suggests that the people and the state work in tandem in the fight against terror. “If there is a clip showing an atrocity by the forces, it should be sent to the army chief to ensure that action is taken against officers who perpetrate violence,” says Doval.

But Onkar Kedia, additional director general, media and communications, home ministry, stresses that the images that the youth present should not be distorted. “We will be worried if the pictures and facts are twisted or if the complete picture is not presented. In such a situation, we reserve the right to clarify the position,” Kedia says.

Not every clip or post on the Internet is a tragedy, though. The bloggers also record moments of strength — such as people praying together on the streets, or groups collecting water for a hospital which had no water supply.

The young citizen journalists of the Valley are hopeful that they will become agents of change one day. As a blog post titled ‘Hope in Hopelessness’ says: “The only soothing word that provides solace amidst all the dispiriting words we live amongst — violence, conflict, armed forces, bunkers, guns, bullets, encounters and political uncertainty — is hope.”

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