By Arif Khan
Kashmir continues to soak in the blood of its own people, falling victim to ‘stray bullets’ and ‘non-lethal pellets’ fired from the guns of armed forces. Since summer 2016, Kashmir has lost more than hundred young lives, thousands have been injured. The haunting pictures and videos going viral on social media show the continuum of violence and brute measures used by the state to curb the protest.
During the summer of 2016, Kashmir confronted one of its most severe crises ever. Today the situation in the Valley for all intents and purposes is far more complex and complicated. Normalcy tends to be episodic.
Young populations, particularly students, have a propensity to aggression and unrest. The Valley has witnessed a swift soar in violence this month, since eight people, including students, were reportedly killed in clashes with the security forces on the polling day, which recorded the lowest turnout of around 7 per cent.
Many scholars have suggested the dangers of a demographic ‘youth bulge’ in the protests, as was recently seen, where students took to the streets facing armed forces.
There were protests in colleges and universities across the Kashmir valley. The University of Kashmir and its affiliated colleges has postponed all exams which were scheduled this month. The protests in Kashmir turned violent as police tried to stop the students from marching by using tear gas shells, water canisters, and PAVA shells. “School and college campuses are the only places which used to be safe. Now, the police is firing teargas shells inside here too,” Intizar Ahmad, a student at Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College, told Firstpost. “These protests are also against the army for beating innocent students on the roads,” he added.
The state government has ordered that all universities, colleges, and higher secondary schools in the Valley will remain closed, and will reopen only once situation turns ‘normal’. Altaf Bukhari, Education Minister, said, “We condemn all kind of violence. Students have the right to protest peacefully within the college premises.” But the question is: Why are educational institutions directly targeted by the forces?
With videos and pictures of protests on the social media fuelling public outrage, Mehbooba Mufti’s government has ordered that Internet services in the Valley to be suspended. An order issued by the state government sought to suspend channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp with an immediate effect. Banning social media in Kashmir is a useless exercise that could do more harm than good.
Ban has been a favourite plaything of the state in Kashmir. So far the state government has banned the social media, SMS service, and other internet services. They banned everything in Kashmir except things that need to be banned, live bullets and pellet guns while dealing with the protesters.
Kashmir valley has witnessed probably one of the longest internet bans in the recent past. The imposing agencies have repetitively warranted the ban on the grounds that the social media amidst situation of public anger shapes public opinion undesirably, which ultimately drives disproportionate action and creates unavoidable law and order situation. Blocking the course of information cannot be a solution to the problem. Government should make sure that violations of human rights do not happen.
While declaring internet curfew, government needs to recognize that internet is way beyond facebook and whatsapp. The internet is an economic dynamo that drives economies and at times it needs to be looked beyond the anticipation of disturbing law and order.
The ban comes at a time when there have been demonstrations/protests across campuses in the Valley. An alarming trend has emerged where teenage school girls, with faces covered by dupattas or wearing burkhas, have joined the protest against armed forces. These protests show how much mistrust and suspicion is there in the minds of locals in the area. In such a situation, to enforce a blanket ban on information technology will only make the youth feel more isolated and aggrieved.
Many Kashmiris are baffled by these bans as their daily businesses, which are often dependent on social media, get severely affected. The government needs to re-examine its strategy and take some effective measures to bring down the violence, instead of banning internet and mobile services in the region.
In the past, we have time and again witnessed the futile attempts by the government to bring peace. None of them, either in Srinagar or in Delhi, seem to know why the violence is enduring? The static nature of the Kashmir conflict since late 2016 and which has now entered into 2017 is a matter of grave concern even for those who have for long been habituated to this violence.
Since 2008, the Valley has witnessed several waves of unrest. In 2008 and 2010, Kashmir went through a particularly difficult period but now its nature is changing with every passing day. We need to think how ‘normalcy’ can be restored in valley. When will we witness a time where these painful stories about someone’s disappearance or death will cease?
Arif Khan is Research Scholar, Department of History, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at: Karif2172@gmail.com
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