How Kashmiris are using phone cameras to tell the world of atrocities by security forces
In 1990s, most human rights abuses went unnoticed and underreported. These days, massacres are being recorded and uploaded.
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In the hot summer of 2010, a young Kashmiri was sitting by the parapets of a shop in Seki Dafar locality of downtown Srinagar. This was the summer of the biggest uprising, an intifada as international observers called it.
He was witnessing the street protests, when all of a sudden gunshots echoed in the air. As the people ran for safety, the young man got hit. He was lying in the streets, blood oozing from his stomach. Two young men carried him in their arms, and put him on a bike to take him to the nearest SMHS hospital. He succumbed to his injuries.
He became one of the 128 Kashmiris who were killed. And this was the first ever killing recorded by a mobile phone.
In 2013, a video showed Indian forces beating up three alleged protesters in the lawn of the Baramulla police station. The video showed the Indian forces stripping the protesters despite their appeals for mercy.
It went viral and was the first video to be covered by the Indian media and local media. After causing much embarrassment to the Omar Abdullah government and his police administration, the video was taken down by YouTube. The police said they will investigate the uploader and the contents of the video. No action was taken.
With the increasing penetration of internet and widespread use of smartphones in the Valley, videos of the atrocities became a bigger headache for the new government in Srinagar in early 2016. During the Handwara killings, videos of protesters being killed emerged and became a story that contested the official version of the story.
After the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani, videos of killings and protests were being uploaded every hour on the most used social media platform, Facebook. The state administration, wary of the new pattern, took down the internet two days later.
Even after the internet ban, videos would surface online. The people who were leaving Kashmir were carrying the videos in their smartphones and uploading them wherever internet was available.There have been dire consequences for online dissenters. Photo: Reuters
This is the new pattern of media in Kashmir: a video gets uploaded and gets viral, then the video is carried as a headline by various news outlets, locally and internationally. A challenge to the state’s narrative whose only response is to ban the internet frequently or jail the online dissenters.
Before the January 25 revolution in Egypt that led to the Arab Spring, it was the Kashmiris who used social media to mobilise and organise protests in 2008 and extensively in 2010. With 60 per cent of the population under the age of 30, the discourse is led by opinion leaders on various social media platforms and not by the newspapers.
Kashmiris have used the technology as a tool to define their movement for independence. Rather than waiting for journalists to make a story, they are taking a phone and making a story on their own. A phenomenon that has not only created awareness on Kashmir globally, but given local voices an international platform.
But there have been dire consequences for online dissenters. For example, in 2010 a youngster under the name of Kalkharab Koshur was detained for writing a blog "How I became a stone-pelter". After 2010, a cyber cell was established next to the notorious torture centre "Cargo" to develop surveillance on such activities.
Various Facebook pages have been taken down and online websites shave been banned. Facebook page admins have been detained, WhatsApp group admins too have been detained. Content has been taken down by Facebook, which has its offices in India.
In 1990s, most of the human rights abuses went unnoticed and underreported. These days, massacres are being recorded by mobile phones. Zahid was live on Facebook recording the killings before he was shot dead in Chadoora. Or a polling station officer capturing an Indian forces’ personnel shooting a youngster at point blank range. Or the video of Farooq Ahmad who was used as a human shield by the Indian Army in Budgam. These are incidents that have occurred through the 1990s until now. The only difference being, a smartphone.
While the Indian forces continue to shoot at protesters, the protesters shoot back with a smartphone camera. Capturing and documenting human rights abuses in real-time. Without any apologist narrative or a statist discourse, these citizen journalists are broadcasting the unadulterated truth.