Despite the United Nation’s intervention and evident rising distress levels among the local population, the government of Jammu and Kashmir stays unmoved.
Srinagar: The people including students, entrepreneurs, academicians and professionals are anxious because of the social media gag that was implemented in April this year. Even if the ban is to be revoked, the decision comes with terms and conditions: refrain from sharing “violent” videos.
Responding to if the government was depriving its people of the right to information and freedom of expression, Waheed-ur- Rehman Para, youth president and spokesperson of the ruling Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asserted that “some hard steps are taken for peace to prevail” in the valley.
Para said that if people “restrain themselves from sharing violent and sensitive videos online”, the ban may be revoked very soon.
“There is no time set for the ban,” he told the FPK, “It can even be revoked tomorrow. Its just that people have to refrain from sharing videos that make the situation worse. Our priority is to save lives.”
The government believes that “situation has improved” after it ordered the ban on the use of social media here.
“The videos are not going viral after the ban was enforced and the situation is also getting better which proves that the government’s decision was right,” he claimed.
Besides the mainstream media, people – mostly youth – used social media to express their views and of late, people went live on Facebook near gun fight sites.
After eight civilians were killed on 8th April when polls were held for Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, a video went viral showing a local youth being tied to an army jeep by soldiers as a human shield.
Similar incidents were recorded by people during the peak of 2016 uprising which showed how the law was being taken for a ride by men in uniform.
On their part, army soldiers released some purported videos that showed Kashmiri young boys “heckling and slapping” forces outside a polling station.
As the war of videos continued, the government of Jammu and Kashmir in April asked all the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to effectively ban all kinds of content that were being uploaded on these platforms. At least 22 such social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Youtube (uploading) are currently banned in Valley.
However, given the boom in Information Technology skills amongst Kashmiri youth, soon the responses came.
People started switching to Virtual Private Network (VPN) on their phones and laptops. But slow internet speed and the efforts to work with a VPN have made the life of a local user miserable.
Of late, Kashmiris had started using social media to further their businesses. One such youth, famous on Facebook and other social networking sites, Javid Parsa, however, told the FPK, “My business is still running fine. But the ban is affecting my mental health.”
“My audience is youth,” Parsa said. “They can manage it (by using VPN like networks). More than my business, the ban is affecting my psyche. Yes, the response on my social media posts has reduced by 5 to 10 percent. I am okay with that but the businesses in their incubation period like Kartfood that is completely dependent on the internet has lost its business by 70 percent.”
On his Facebook wall, Parsa usually posts about social campaigns. People also approach him in case they need help from masses.
A research that was done by Software Freedom Law Centre, an NGO which works for online freedom, inferred that the successive governments blocked internet at least 31 times between 2012 to 2016.
“In 5 minutes, I would get 50 to 70 shares. This would help some people like those who need blood donations. I would post about it and people would come to rescue. It’s still happening but its impact has gone down,” he added.
Dr Arshid Hussain, a known psychiatrist, however, told the FPK, “This (ban on the internet) is not something which will lead to psychiatric issues.”
“But,” he added, “the gag (on the internet and social media) leads to a gap in communication and information. People nowadays don’t prefer libraries. They rely on the internet.”
He referred how doctors, scholars and other professionals need internet facility to stay updated about their work.
“This is a fast world and now people need not move from one place to another for research and all that,” he said.
“People will cope-up with it like Kashmiris did during the September 2014 deluge,” he said adding that the ban “causes distress”.
“A child sitting in a different country who cannot talk to his parents now will obviously be distressed,” he added.
The gag is also hitting hard the tech-savvy people in Kashmir who would earn money by analysing the leaks in the social networking sites.
Yasir Altaf Zargar, a 23-year-old web Security Analyst from Kashmir, said that he suffered a loss of Rs 10 to 12 lakh during internet ban.
“Who would compensate for the losses I suffered? As a web analyst, I ethically point out the leaks in a (web) site and through various procedures, I inform my customers about them. Depending on how severe the leak is, they pay me. Now that I don’t have access to internet/social media, I don’t have any contact with my customers,” said Zargar.
Zargar, it may be noted, has been acknowledged as a web security analyst by Facebook, Google, Snap Chat and Baidu.