Connect to share and comment

Social media has come to Kashmir

Unlike in Iran and Myanmar, internet activists in Kashmir address mainly a domestic audience.

Kashmir Muslims
Kashmiri Muslims shout anti-India slogans as they carry the body of a 9-year-old boy during a funeral in Srinagar on Aug. 2, 2010. (Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

MUMBAI, India — A Facebook user posted a video of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani giving a speech, and within 24 hours there were 300 comments.

People debated Geelani’s call for non-violence and argued how best to bring peace to a region that has seen an explosion of protests in which 50 people have been killed since June. More than 30 died in the last week or so.

Over the past few years technology has played an increasingly important role in protest movements around the world, from Myanmar (Burma) to Tibet to Iran and now to Kashmir, the largely Muslim state at the heart of the dispute between India and Pakistan.

Violence has intensified in Kashmir this summer as heavily armed police have battled with stone-throwing young protesters. The dead have included teenagers and a 9-year-old boy, triggering more protests and then more shootings, according to reports.

Tools like Facebook, Meetup and Twitter have enabled activists to quickly and cheaply gather and disseminate information, produce their own media and organize, according to Rachel Sterne, the CEO of GroundReport, a global citizen journalism outlet.

Like activists in other hot spots, Kashmiris have recently begun using new media tools to disseminate videos and information, share ideas and build up their movement. Though formal internet connection is still low in Kashmir, many use their mobile phones to access sites like Facebook, said Arjimand Talib, an online editor and columnist with Daily Greater Kashmir.

In the past, Kashmiris would meet maybe once a week and spend the whole night chatting and brainstorming, said Sanjay Kak, a filmmaker based in Delhi whose latest  documentary, "Jashn-e-Azadi" (2007), is about Kashmir.

“With the spread of the internet, that sense of isolation has been broken,” he said. “People don’t have to wait three days to share an idea with a friend.”

Many in Kashmir are also turning to new media as an outlet because they feel the state has prevented them from expressing themselves freely. In Kashmir, the government does not allow university students to form student unions, has blocked all text messages, has implemented a curfew and has targeted people who engage in street protests, Talib said.

“They’re finding the internet and Facebook an easy tool to vent their frustrations,” he said.

But unlike the protest movements in Myanmar and Iran, which used new technology to circumvent government censorship and inform the international community what was happening on their streets, the protesters in Kashmir have been mostly focused on a domestic audience, according to local journalists and social media experts.