For now, violent clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir between young Kashmiris and Indian security forces may appear to have died down. But these conflicts remain highly visible on the Internet, where youth are using social media to continue to air their grievances and advance their cause, according to panelists who spoke at the United States Institute of Peace on October 5th.

October 21, 2010

Social Media Amplify Concerns in India’s Jammu and Kashmir State


For now, violent clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir between young Kashmiris and Indian security forces may appear to have died down. But these conflicts remain highly visible on the Internet, where youth are using social media to continue to air their grievances and advance their cause, according to panelists who spoke at the United States Institute of Peace on October 5th.

“Social media is a paradigm shifter in terms of the tools available to protestors in Kashmir,” said Moeed Yusuf, USIP’s South Asia adviser, after the event. “They no longer need to take illegal measures to protest straight away. Rather, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, have allowed them space to share information, plan protests, and raise awareness in completely legal ways.”
 
At the event, journalists Rebecca Byerly and Zubair Ahmed, and former Ambassador Howard B. Schaffer spoke about their recent experiences in Jammu and Kashmir on a panel moderated by Yusuf. According to the panelists, India’s government has so far failed to regain control of the region in the aftermath of the recent clashes, and has pledged to review its security deployments and pursue a political settlement.

Panelists said Kashmiris are unhappy with the presence of Indian Security Forces, and protests sometimes turn violent in response to the actions of security forces. These sorts of protests are hardly a new occurrence. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has experienced similar types of domestic uprisings since 1989. Since June, violence in this region has led to the deaths of more than 110 people, most of whom are boys and young men. These deaths have prompted young protestors, mostly teenage boys, to go viral with online videos that capture the security forces’ role in these deaths and blogs publicize their “rock throwing” campaigns.

Byerly is a freelance journalist who has reported for Voice of America, Time, and National Geographic. She recently reported from Kashmir about water quality and other environmental issues. While there, she witnessed the nature of the protests taking place in the troubled state. Byerly elaborated on youth involvement in the Kashmir unrest, and the use of new media to create videos and share messages about the violence.

“It’s only now, having been on the ground in Kashmir, that I am beginning to understand who these young people are,” Byerly said. “The problems in this region are something you have to watch and you have to listen to.”
Byerly said Kashmiri youth are using social media to document the actions of Indian security forces—which they protest the presence of—and to coordinate with each other. Youth also see the Internet as a way to make visible what is happening in Kashmir to the international community.

Byerly said when she talked to young Kashmiris she learned they were still very concerned about the presence of Indian security forces. At the same time, Byerly remarked she is concerned that these videos will ignite more violence rather than remedy the problem, because the videos and photos keep alive and resonant a memory that feeds continued unrest.

Yusuf agreed that the technical agility of these young protestors makes it difficult for the state to control what information is publicly released. He said, “The state can no longer rely on its coercive mechanisms to hide facts or delay release of information.” Access to social networking sites has “revolutionized both the potential of the peoples of Kashmir and undercut the ability of the state apparatus to deal through classical heavy handed means.” Yusuf added that issues caused by the advent of social networking technology are not limited to Indian Kashmir; all states face this challenge now.

Ahmed, a senior journalist with the BBC who has covered Indian Kashmir for two decades, said the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct reflection of the people’s reaction to the Indian government’s policies.He said the parents of these youth have been protesting the occupation by Indian forces for decades and the youth are now adopting these struggles as their own.

“It is a people’s movement, it is Kashmir’s own,” Ahmed said. “Anger is their weapon, frustration is their expression, and … freedom is their voice.”

Schaffer, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and a professor at Georgetown University, spoke about India's role in South Asia, the India-Pakistan relationship, and most importantly, U.S. policy on Kashmir and towards India and Pakistan. He said the international community must take seriously the problems in Jammu and Kashmir, as this unrest could carry over the border into Pakistan as well. Since the partition of British India in 1947, the demarcating line – today called the Line of Control (LoC) – between Pakistani and Indian controlled parts of the Jammu and Kashmir state has been a point of tension for the two nuclear-armed countries.

Following the event, Yusuf commented on the U.S. role in Kashmir saying, “friendly countries like the U.S. must continue to prod both India and Pakistan and facilitate dialogue between them.”

Yusuf said USIP ‘s Special Report, “Promoting Cross-LoC  Trade in Kashmir: An Analysis of the Joint Chamber,” examines the Federation of Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry and suggests ways in which it can play an instrumental role in ensuring further expansion of cross–LoC ties.

In recent years, USIP’s Center for Mediation and Conflict Resolution has supported several research-based initiatives looking at ways to bolster cooperation across the Line of Control as a means to help stabilize the region to the benefit of local Kashmiris and to build confidence between the governments of India and Pakistan.

A September 2008 Special Report, “Making Borders Irrelevant in Kashmir,” is an outcome of this support. This report examines and recommends processes of “making borders irrelevant—or softening the LoC to allow the easy movement of people, goods, and services across it. The same Indian and Pakistani research team is doing a follow-up study that looks more specifically at the means to bolster the tourism industry of Kashmir as a way to strengthen stabilization and cross-LoC economic cooperation.   

As violence continues in Jammu and Kashmir, panelists and USIP experts agree that the international community must pay attention to how violence is circulated through social media and is impacting the situation on-the-ground.

Related Publications

Will the Long March to Democracy in Pakistan Finally Succeed?

Will the Long March to Democracy in Pakistan Finally Succeed?

Friday, July 8, 2011

By: Sheila Fruman

To break its pattern of alternating democratic and military rule, Pakistan’s civilian government should assert authority over its military and intelligence agencies, involve civil society in building a robust legislative agenda, and investigate and prosecute corruption. The international community can help by maintaining support for Pakistani institutions and organizations that have strengthened democratic practices.

Type: Peaceworks

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications