A video of CRPF personnel being heckled and pummeled out of a village in Budgam on April 9, the day of the parliamentary election, was used widely in the national media to portray the restraint shown by the armed forces. The CRPF praised its men in the video for their discipline. The next day, as if challenging that story of restraint, another surfaced, this time showing an ITBP jawan purportedly killing a stone-pelting boy with a direct shot.
Hours later, the narrative changed again, when yet another video went viral, this time showing around 30 militants relaxing in a field together, presumed to be somewhere in south Kashmir. As national media was still digesting this new “shocking” evidence of increasing militancy in Kashmir, out came another video, this one with a Kashmiri man tied to the bonnet of an Army vehicle.
“It’s a war of videos,” said a senior J&K government official, “each trying to outdo the other in the brutality they can pin on the other side”.
Young Kashmiris armed with smart phones are the warriors in this video war. The videos notch up thousands of views the minute they are posted and shared over multiple social media platforms, such as Facebook and Whatsapp. Each post attracts thousands of outraged comments, and turns into a battlefield for polarised opinions.
Six days after the parliamentary poll, it’s raining videos, almost one every three or four hours.
On Saturday, four new videos had emerged since morning — at least three purportedly showed security personnel using excessive force. In one, three soldiers have purportedly pinned a boy underneath their boots and are beating him on his back; in another, they are making a group of boys shout profanities against Pakistan; in a third, a group of boys have been tied together and being made to shout “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, and “Pakistan Murdabad”. The fourth video shows residents of a village helping CRPF personnel to leave the area, telling them not to worry.
Nobody knows for sure when these incidents happened, or where they took place. People interpret the videos depending on which side they are on, said the official, each view and counter view putting more distance between Kashmiris and the rest of the country.
In Kashmir, for instance, the video of the CRPF jawan being heckled is being viewed as a model of Kashmiri restraint.
The first words spoken in the video are from a person outside the picture frame. He’s saying in Kashmiri: “Dapus choob na khenh (Tell them not to beat him).”
Seconds later, another voice is heard: “Hathawaai (oh what a pity). Ya bechar ghareeb (Poor man)”.
Behind him, a voice is heard saying constantly: “Laayew ma (don’t beat)”.
When a youth punches the jawan’s sleeping bag, a voice is heard shouting: “Oi paagal, kya kar rehe ho (What are you doing)?”
Raja Muzaffar Bhat, a Budgam-based RTI activist, said people across India saw on their television channels only the heckling and the booing, and the jawan being kicked, but did not hear the voices behind. “No one bothered to hear these Kashmiri voices of restraint. These people could have taken away his gun, they could have lynched the soldier, but they let them go. No national channel noticed that,” said Bhat.
While some outside the Valley are praising the Army jeep video as a “lesson” to all stone pelters, in Kashmir, “the message people are drawing is that this is how the Modi government has decided to behave with Kashmiris from now on”.
It is not just videos of incidents in Kashmir that get shared. Said Bhat: “Every youngster in Kashmir will have a cache of videos showing communal incidents, whether in Rajasthan, UP, Karnataka, or anywhere else in the country. The reactions we are seeing in Kashmir today are reactions to what is happening in the rest of India, which is reaching here through these videos.”
The recent lynching of Pehlu Khan, another of an old, bearded Muslim man being forced to abuse Islam, vidoes of cow vigilantism, another of BJP’s Telangana MLA T Raja Singh making a communally inciting speech; of the Muzaffarnagar riots — videos of all this and more are being constantly viewed and shared. Although some of these incidents may have happened many years ago, they represent the here and now of India for Kashmiri youth, Bhat said.
“People see these videos and think now Hindutva is sweeping across India, and it is not possible for Kashmiris to co-exist in such an atmosphere. Most of these people are not separatists, they don’t have links with Hurriyat. They are the mainstream,” he said.
“Social media is a weapon and people are using it to mobilise opinion and deepen the divide,” said Waheed Para, youth president of the People’s Democratic Party. Every Kashmiri is armed with an Android phone, he said, pointing to the six lakh connections registered when a phone company offered time-bound free SIM cards as a pointer to the scale of the challenge.
The government, on the other hand, he said, “is doing nothing on this front. Our systems are very conventional. Every hour there is a government event, but it does not get reported. You can’t put out one press release at 7 pm these days. We have to update continuously.”
But, he said, the government could hope to mobilise opinion only if it had something to offer to young Kashmiris to build a stake for themselves in the system.
The senior official said the relative anonymity of the internet had led to Kashmiri youth shifting their “war” against the government online, with militancy and religious extremism being glorified, and everything Indian, including the national media, excoriated.
“People are getting all their news only through these posts on Facebook or WhatsApp and elsewhere online, and mostly it is hatemongering,” he said.
The government has thus far reacted by suspending the mobile internet now and then. Last year, it was suspended from July 9 to November 19. It was cut off five times each in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This year, it was cut off from April 8 to April 14, with a brief break in between.
Junaid Mattoo, National Conference spokesman, said the videos reflected “reality”. “We should not worry about politicians sharing these videos on social media platforms. Instead, we need to worry that those incidents are actually happening,” Mattoo said.
“Facebook or Twitter is only a medium. The suspension of the medium is no solution, the solution is to address the problems facing Kashmir in a substantive manner. We cannot pretend that there is no outrage, that the situation will resolve itself. It will not. The situation in Kashmir is not normal, and whenever there are human rights violations, we will express our outrage on all patforms,” said Mattoo.
He tweeted on Saturday that “if we can shelve Geneva Convention in Kashmir prohibiting use of human shield, how can we invoke it in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav”.
Shahid Chaudhary, Director, Information, who is active on Twitter, told The Indian Express that the government was considering the registration of WhatsApp groups, a move that was first tried in Kupwara last April. Chaudhary also said the government was framing a full-scale social media policy.
“WhatsApp groups are circulating rumours and speculation, and by the time a denial is put out, the damage has been done,” said Chaudhary. The senior official said with hundreds of thousands of youth active on social media, “we cannot track down each of them, we cannot stop them unless we take away the medium”.