Dineshwar Sharma should be cautious in choosing his priorities in Kashmir
In an interview to news agency PTI on Sunday, Dineshwar Sharma, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, who was recently appointed as the Centre’s representative for talks in Kashmir, said that “countering false sloganeering and propaganda available online” will be on the top of his agenda.
Further into the interview, Sharma — appointed to initiate and carry forward a dialogue with elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in Jammu and Kashmir — says that there are reports that Kashmiri youth were “getting radicalised by false online propaganda”.
It is not the first time that a representative of the State has mentioned that Kashmiris are getting swayed by online propaganda. In March, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said in the Lok Sabha that social media groups operating from Pakistan provoke Kashmiri youngsters to throw stones at security forces.
The security establishment in Kashmir too has time and again blamed the Internet and social media for fuelling the violence — and hence the recurrent gags on the Internet and a month-long ban on social media sites earlier this year.
Those who talk about “online propaganda” have never actually outlined specifically how it happens — except that some WhatsApp groups have been found to be used to mobilise protesters and often spread rumours.
A critical analysis of the content, perceived as problematic by the State and being shared widely in Kashmiri social media circles, reveals that the videos or photos are not necessarily “false” but attempts to capture alleged human rights violations of common Kashmiris and the wrongs of the armed forces.
For instance, the video of the now infamous “human shield” case — wherein a Kashmiri weaver was tied to a jeep by the army and driven through villages — was a genuine one which became a rallying point of protest against ‘atrocities’ by the security forces.
On the other hand, videos uploaded by militants can be rightly called “propaganda” material. But as several media reports have shown, Kashmiri youngsters have several other reasons to join the ranks of the militants — such as harassment by forces or being booked under controversial laws such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) — than being solely motivated by such videos. Sharma’s concerns about online propaganda might be valid but it is only one of the multiple reasons ailing Kashmir currently and most of them are rooted in the real world itself. The youth here are primarily “radicalised” by the violence happening here on a daily basis rather than through some forwarded WhatsApp message.
As the Supreme Court hears arguments on the repealing of Article 35A in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, the Valley remains tense and the common man perceives it to be an attempt by the Centre to play around with the region’s special rights. The arrest of several separatist leaders and summoning of a prominent advocate and a university scholar regarding a “terror funding” case is seen by many as hitting below the belt.
Justice awaits the families of the 100-odd civilians killed in the unrest of 2016. While scores of youngsters, many of them bystanders and not protesters, blinded by pellets last year grapple in the dark, the State has made it clear that the use of pellet guns — which has been condemned widely —won’t stop in the strife-torn Valley. Such is the disaffection towards “Indian forces,” that widespread allegations were made by Kashmiris that it’s the “Indian agencies” which are behind the mysterious “braid-chopping” incidents.
Issues which actually trouble Kashmiris in the real world find a resonance in the virtual one — but it would be wrong to say that the proverbial root of all evil lies in the online world. There are a myriad of grievances in Kashmir that need healing — and those are in the real world. Hence, Sharma — the decorated officer who has served in Kashmir during the peak of militancy in the 1990s — should be cautious about choosing his priorities.