The ugly world of Kashmir’s online rebels
Social networking sites backing street clashes overflow with communal invective and calls to violence
There is no evidence that social networks are used to organise or fund protests
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: “I know I’m sexy,” Srinagar resident Junaid Rafiqi proclaims on his Facebook page, below a professionally lit photograph that, among other things, shows off his possession of an expensive pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
He goes on with an enthusiasm unfettered by punctuation, spelling and grammar: “I got the looks that drives the girls wild I got the moves that really move them. I send chills up and down their spines” [sic., throughout and below].
Facebook users like Rafiqi have been sending chills down the spines of the police in Jammu and Kashmir for much of this summer. Much to the dismay of the authorities, social networks backing the cause of the Islamist-led protesters have proliferated on the Internet.
There is no evidence that social networks have been used to organise or fund the protests — but their content underlines concerns at the growing influence the religious right-wing has over the educated young people in Kashmir.
“We Hate Omar Abdullah,” a network Mr. Rafiqi often participates in, gives some insight into the world of Kashmir’s Facebook rebels. The network hosts a collection of political satire. There is, for example, a digitally-manipulated image of Paul, the celebrity octopus, picking a dead donkey over the Chief Minister in response to a question who has “more guts.”
But much of the satire is venomously communal. Mr. Abdullah is repeatedly referred to as “Omar Singh” — a derisory reference derived, evidently, from the rumour that his wife is Sikh. The former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, is shown offering respects at a Hindu temple, while another image caricatures the Chief Minister and his wife as pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine. The administrators of the “We Hate Omar Abdullah,” quite clearly see politicians’ efforts to reach out to multiple religious communities as a betrayal.
“The Dalla [broker] family,” the Ray-Ban wearing Rafiqi asserts in one post on the Facebook page, “should be hanged publicly.” Elsewhere, he refers to Mr. Abdullah as a kafir, or unbeliever. In another post on the page, a member asserts that Mr. Abdullah has been denied permission for pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia because of his marriage — a canard circulated by Islamists soon after he took power.
Some networks host express calls to violence. “Everybody,” exhorts the administrator of “Times Now is Anti-Kashmiri,” “[the] next time you see any Times Now correspondent pick up a stone and throw that on their face!.” Arnab Goswami, the channel’s editor-in-chief, one user asserts, “should be killed.” Ethnic-Kashmiri anchor Mahrukh Inayet comes in for unprintable abuse targeting her gender.
Barkha Dutt, arguably India’s best-known English-language television journalist, also draws flak. “We hate Barkha Dutt” contains claims that her reportage on the clashes lacked balance. Much of it, though, consists of personal invective — and threats. “Hell is meant for her,” writes network member Faizan Rashid, “but she should have some kinna punishment in this world as well…‘stoned to death’…wot say?”
Not all protest-linked networks promote these kinds of invective. Barring the odd comment about “Indian dogs,” “I Protest Against the Atrocities on Kashmiris” has no abusive language. Most posts on this network address questions of media bias and political grievances, not individuals.
Even networks like this, though, are remarkable for the complete absence of the very kinds of serious commentary and debate they believe is wanting in India’s mainstream print and electronic media.
There is no way of telling just who the participants on these sites are: users contacted by The Hindu, including Mr. Rafiqi, did not respond to requests to be interviewed. For the most part, though, users seem to be English-speaking and Kashmiri. Judging by their clothing and cultural idiom, are middle-class. Despite the aggressive religious chauvinism evident on the site, there is nothing to suggest substantial numbers of users support established Islamist clerics.
The police say most young people held on the charge of throwing stones do not have a high-school education, and are either unemployed or semi-employed — a class quite distinct from that of the Facebook radical.
More likely than not, official concerns at these networks is exaggerated: their scale and reach is tiny. “I Protest Against the Atrocities on Kashmiris” has 810 members — small numbers compared, for example, with the Palestine solidarity page “Palestine Freedom,” which has 101,178. “We Hate Omar Abdullah” has 675 members and “Civil Disobedience 2010-Quit Kashmir Movement” 134. “Bloody Indian Media,” set up to protest the reportage of the street violence in Srinagar, has 58.
It is possible, though, that the ideas they propagate reflect new ideological trends among some sections of young people in Jammu and Kashmir — a prospect which, if true, holds out a real reason for concern.