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Stifled Kashmir breathes free on Facebook

Social networking websites, like Facebook, have emerged as a breathing space to vent feelings, stay connected, share news and poke fun at the politician for beleaguered residents of Kashmir. Peerzada Ashiq reports.

india Updated: Jul 13, 2010 20:13 IST
Peerzada Ashiq
Peerzada Ashiq
Hindustan Times

Social networking websites, like Facebook, have emerged as a breathing space to vent feelings, stay connected, share news and poke fun at the politician for beleaguered residents of Kashmir.

Most of the residents, particularly in old Srinagar, are locked up inside their houses due to curfew and consistent separatists’ shutdown call for more than a month now. On June 11, the killing of school-goer Tufail Ahmad Mattoo (17) sparked off a series of protests, which left 15 civilians dead.

With short messaging services (SMS) banned in Kashmir, the Facebook has helped people stay connected and informed. “Every time I plan to buy essentials from the areas less affected, I update my status asking people if that particular area is safe from stone-throwing protesters or baton swinging security forces,” said Junaid Qureshi, a government employee, who lives at Zaina Kadal, interiors of downtown Srinagar.

Old Srinagar witnessed sporadic clashes and pitched battles between security forces and protesters despite curfew. For more than 20 days now, security restrictions have not been eased in the area.

Qureshi claimed, Facebook helps him to look for safe passage to buy essentials as friends quickly respond and inform about the situation.

Facebook has emerged as a fast means for circulating news in Kashmir. Many websites like Kashmir Dispatch and Kashmir cater to Facebook netizens.

“I largely rely on Facebook news websites that keep me updated. It’s fast and one can react to it. Look at news websites on Facebook, each news has extracted hundreds of comments agreeing and disagreeing with statements or facts,” said Saleh Peerzada, a law student.

‘Kashmir’ news site has claimed more than 2 lakh hits in a week’s time, with urban Kashmir hooked to social networking sites to kill time.

“It (Facebook) helps us to know well being of friends, relatives. Besides, socializing and debating issues help us kill time positively,” said Peerzada, who spends ten hours on the Internet during curfew.

Many netizens started groups on food and art. People even celebrated birthday parties and ‘meet’ friends on the Internet.

“Last week, when the curfew was strictly imposed, it was my niece’s birthday. We celebrated it on the Skype, watched her cutting cake and joined the party. Later, party pictures were uploaded on Facebook,” said Tabish Andrabi, a resident of Lal Bazaar in Srinagar.

The social networking sites are providing a chance to arrange virtual get-together for friends and relatives who have not been able to see each other due to the turmoil.

Status updates target politicians and poke fun at them. One status update critiquing Chief Minister Omar Abdullah writes: “Only young are getting killed in Kashmir because Omar Abdullah wants to be the only young and dynamic person of the Valley. He cannot stand other young persons.”

Facebook has also become a tool with separatists to expand their influence and protests against India. All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Masrat Alam even asked people to protest on Facebook by posting anti-India slogans and changing profiles to black in protest. The government has already started a crackdown on separatists on Facebook.

Social scientists argue that social networking sites can help cool tempers and make masses less tense. “The websites help people to vent their anger and stay connected, which in turn helps in lowering of tensions and anxiety, as people get to know well-being of relatives,” said Jamsheed Khan, a sociologist.

First Published: Jul 13, 2010 20:10 IST