Facebook and Kashmir unrest in 2010

Social networking sites and the wired young generation have combined to create a perfect storm threatening authoritarian regimes from Europe to Middle East to Kashmir

Facebook gives people a voice to those who don’t have it. It allows them to communicate with people from other parts of the world so that they share a common vision globally. People get the exposure that wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook in terms of sharing ideas and information. It gives disenfranchised people who don’t have any access to mainstream media. This was illustrated in recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

The proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the coming of age of a wired young generation have combined to create a perfect storm threatening authoritarian regimes from Europe to the Middle East. In 2009, the group Canvas, which was founded in 2003 and influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gene Sharp—the American author of several books on nonviolent struggle including “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” trained some 20 Egyptians activists on tactics they could use to promote change in Egypt. Some of the activists later founded the April 6 movement that supported the anti-government protests in Egypt.
Social media has an important role to play in Tunisia. An estimated 18 percent Tunisian’s population is on Facebook and it was the place where many Tunisians shared updates relating to the protests. And with a paucity of on-the-ground media coverage, twitter excelled as a message in getting the information out, in driving mainstream media coverage, and in connecting activists on the ground with multipliers in the West.  

“In Egypt, Google regional marketing manager Wael Ghonim was jailed by secret police for 12 days after he was identified as a key figure using social media to help orchestrate demonstrations. When Ghonim was released, he went straight to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, grabbed a microphone and rallied seemingly demoralized protesters to push for Mubarak’s resignation.” (Lindorff, 2011). But how are Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions like the Kashmir revolution? The summer 2010 unrest in Kashmir “which claimed the lives of over 110 people” did not bring any change in socio-political institutions of Kashmir. Nor did it help Kashmiri people achieve their freedom from India—the long-standing cause for which they have been fighting for over two decades now.

The action in Kashmir essentially has a lot in common with these revolutions though it may not have gained independence from India. Tunisia and Egypt used Facebook to expose their struggle globally and expose to the international media the oppression of the authoritarian regimes that ruled the countries for 40 to 50 years. Kashmir has been struggling since 1947, though the armed movement in the Valley began in 1989. However, Facebook during the summer 2010 unrest gave Kashmiri people voice to share their stories with people from across the globe. The summer protests began in Kashmir in June in response to killings, excesses and arrests of innocent Kashmiris by security forces in Kashmir.

Young people created Facebook pages and updated posts, posted photos and videos on wall pages pertaining to the demonstrations in Kashmir. This helped them share the common goal with people in large groups at the international level. “The posts and updates on Facebook and the videos and photos during the 2010 summer unrest in Kashmir led to the increased international media attention toward the Valley.” Concerned over the remarkable role of social media in terms of mobilising people and in the wake of recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, Indian Defence Minister A K Antony said “the separatists in Kashmir are misusing social networking sites.” (Deccan Herald)

Facebook gave people in Kashmir a platform to understand the problem at home at a broader level through communication with people globally. This also helped expand small groups into large groups.  Hundreds people from around the world have become members of the Facebook pages created during the 2010 unrest. The pages regularly updated posts of protests during the unrest and are still active featuring updates relating to the freedom struggle. During Tunisian and Egyptian protests that happened months after the summer unrest in Kashmir, people regularly updated these pages highlighting the crisis in the two countries.

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In 2008, Iran’s Facebook revolution triggered a sense of hope to achieve freedom from India among the people of Kashmir.  Facebook presented two different concepts for people of Kashmir: non-violent protest and chaining out—i.e. bonding with people from across the world through Facebook to share their freedom fantasy. These characteristics of rhetorical vision—fantasy (freedom) and source (Facebook) — in the Symbolic Convergence Theory played themselves out in Kashmir in 2008 and 2010. In 2008, Kashmiri protesters used stones instead of guns. This protest was a transition from armed protests. They also used the social media such as Facebook and twitter to register their protests but not excessively. The movement, however, turned into a widespread Facebook revolution in the summer 2010 unrest. Protesters relied heavily on Facebook to get the messages out globally and mobilise support for their freedom. “The stone pelters use Facebook to debate the weekly calendar of protests, discuss ways to hold Kashmiri leaders accountable and trade daily news updates, some of questionable reliability.”

A total of 13 pages were created during the 2010 summer unrest in Kashmir. Most pages were found by typing into the Facebook search bar the keywords such as Kashmir, summer unrest and stone (which symbolised the 2010 summer protests in Kashmir). The links to other pages were sent to me by people in Kashmir in response to my Facebook wall post asking for the information about these pages. All 13 pages were centred on the core demand “freedom”  and the pursuit for independence through stone-throwing protests was illustrated by the title names of the pages—aalaw (call), kane jung (stone-pelting), sangbaaz kashur (stonethrower Kashmiri), Kashmir unrest, Kashur kot (Kashmiri  boy), kale kharab (hot headed), kale kharab kashur (hot headed kashmiri), stone-pelter (1), stone-pelter (2), sangbaaz (stone thrower) stone, Meri Awaz Suno (listen to my voice), kale kharab (hot headed),  frontline Kashmir, aalaw (call), Kane Jung (stone pelting).

The wall posts of these pages during September 2010 were analysed. The attempt was to include the wall posts posted in the three months of protests–June, July and August. However, the month of September was chosen because most of these six pages were created in that month and some pages created before September didn’t include posts from previous months. I randomly selected six wall posts from each of the six pages. A very few posts were totally unrelated to the protests so I used random sampling. But in the process of random sampling none of these few posts were chosen. Random selection also ensured that posts from different days of September were included in the sample. A total of 36 wall posts comprised the final sample. Besides wall posts, I also examined other sections like discussions, questions and notes but they were not used. The examination of the wall posts led to the following three variables. The units under each variable included comments—including photos and videos– as well as comments of the persons who created the pages.

•    Azadi (freedom)
•    Go India go back
•    Mobilization
Spread the news about Indian oppression
•    Share the news about protests
•    Links to local stories
•    Photos (on wall posts)
•    Videos (on wall posts)
•    Information exchange route
Share updates about what’s going on in your areas.
•    Curfew tomorrow
For comparison purposes, I also randomly selected six January wall posts from each of the six pages (Facebook, January, 2011) to see if there were any variations in the variables.  I chose January because it was the first month of the New Year (2011) and the situation was relatively calm during that month. Also the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions accelerated by Facebook happened in that month.  There were slight variations in terms of the frequency of the updates in the first two variables of the Facebook pages. The third variable (information exchange route) however, was not used for Kashmir but was used for Egypt and Tunisia updates. In other words, people exchanged information and shared updates about what was going on in the two countries.
The variables reflected that Facebook was used in Kashmir because it gave disenfranchised people a voice to tell their stories. People shared their stories—“freedom (azadi) and go India go back”—on Facebook that wouldn’t have otherwise found access in the mainstream media because of the nature of the demands that were anti-India. Also, people in Kashmir used Facebook to mobilise masses. This mobilisation in the form of posts such as “spread the news about protests” and videos and photo posts allowed small groups expand into large groups. In other words, the pro-freedom comments of people on the wall posts expanded this small group of people who created the pages. Besides, the instantaneous nature of Facebook that allowed people to know what was going on in other areas and that kept them updated on any occurrences through posts such as “demonstrations going on in Maisuma, one teenage killed in Raj Bagh, curfew in Kupwara,” made Facebook as a hero in the freedom movement. Here are the results of this analysis.
The analysis of the Facebook pages revealed that a majority of posts used ‘azadi’ (freedom), stone pelting and voice in their wall posts. In the September wall posts, people used “freedom” 97% of the time followed by “go India go back” at 88 %. The mobilisation routes such as “share the news about protests,” “spread the news about Indian oppression,”  “links to photos,”  “links to local stories,” “ links to videos” appeared 94%, 90%, 87%, 86% and 84% respectively, in the 36 wall posts and comments. For the information exchange route, features like “share updates about what’s going on in your areas” was mentioned 75 % of the time and “curfew tomorrow” was mentioned 68% of the time in September posts.
In January posts, freedom stayed at 97 % while “go India go back” had come down to 72%. The mobilization route like “share the news about protests,” “spread the news about Indian oppression,” “links to photos,”  “links to local stories,” “links to videos” remained the same at 94%, 90%, 87%, 86% and 84% of times, respectively. Even though the violence had come down in January, “share the news about protests” highlighted small-scale demonstrations that occurred in different localities followed by the references to the summer 2010 protests.  For the information exchange route, updates about Egypt and Tunisia were used 84% of the time.
Author can be mailed at hums09@yahoo.co.in