Kashmiris mock ‘magnificent makeover’ of disputed capital for G20 summit
Social media users share images of soldiers hiding behind tourism posters as sign of the reality since India took control of the region
Images of Indian soldiers hiding behind posters of mountain vistas have earned the mockery of Kashmiris who accuse India of trying to conceal its military occupation during a G20 tourism summit in the region this week.
India has been on a public relations drive to promote tourism in Indian-held Kashmir, taking G20 delegates to markets in Srinagar, the capital of the disputed region, and putting on yoga classes and dance shows.
But Kashmiris say it is all for show, intended to hide a military occupation involving an estimated 500,000 soldiers in a region where many reject India’s rule.
One #G20 greeting screen hides one occupational military man.
Wait for G20 members to enthusiastically announce that there were no military men around! pic.twitter.com/j0ubFKjKja
— Aalaw (@thatguerillaboy) May 22, 2023
In social media posts, many have highlighted the photographs of Indian soldiers standing behind temporary security posts that would have shown only tourism posters to G20 delegates as they drove past. Many mocked how different the city looked in areas along the route for the G20 delegates compared with elsewhere, including one person who joked about how the city had been cleaned up for the summit: “How they swept the whole street for us, because I don’t see any other tourist at the moment.” The Kashmir region has been split into parts controlled by Pakistan and India since 1947 and the two countries have fought three wars for control of the entire region, while many Kashmiris want independence. In 2019 India revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, a region administered by India as a state. Since then rights groups have accused India of serious human rights violations and attacks on freedom of expression, while India claims it is developing the region. A picture tweeted by pro-India accounts, claiming to show how Boulevard Road in Srinagar had been given a “magnificent makeover” since India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomy, was derided by social media users, who pointed out that the photo was actually of a street in Bangladesh. Social media users responded with more photos from elsewhere in the world, joking that these all showed parts of Srinagar that had been transformed. Altaf Hussein, a Kashmiri activist based in Pakistan, tweeted a photo of Kashmiris being searched by Indian security forces with the comment: “It is tourism for Indians, for Kashmiris it is more & more oppression, humiliation & disgrace. We like tourism but not state terrorism.”
Hafsa Kanjwal, assistant professor or South Asian history at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, said India had gone into “propaganda overdrive” in Srinagar to hide Kashmiri dissent while also arresting activists in raids before the G20 meetings.
“‘Native’ culture is often used in the service of propaganda and legitimisation of a colonial project. India wants to reinforce the idea that Kashmir is ‘normal’ and that people are happy with the changes that have been taking place since the revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status,” she said.
“India wants to project an image of Kashmiris as being happy under Indian rule, even as Kashmiris have been completely silenced and all forms of dissent, even basic human rights documentation, have been criminalised.”
— S B (@SB2weets) May 22, 2023
She said many Kashmiris have had to censor their posts and that some of posts mocking India’s PR campaign appear to have disappeared. Diaspora groups have called for a boycott of the G20, she said.
The Stand With Kashmir boycott campaign called on member states and delegates to boycott the G20, saying that by attending India’s events in Kashmir, “instead of defending Kashmiris’ rights, powerful states have abetted India”.