On Wednesday, India aligned itself with the likes of some of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Faced with escalating violence in India-held Kashmir, the local government — a coalition of the PDP and BJP — banned social media networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, for one month “or until further notice” in the valley.
The ‘justification’ given for the move was that the services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” and that they were being suspended “in the interest of maintenance of public order”.
There is no mystery as to what has triggered this ban: a number of shocking videos and photographs have emerged in recent weeks showing Indian soldiers inflicting brutality and humiliation on the local population.
Young boys armed with nothing more than stones being shot, beaten and kicked, and perhaps the most widely circulated video of all, that of Farooq Dar, a young shawl-weaver tied to the hood of an army jeep as a human shield from stone-pelting locals while it patrolled Kashmiri villages on voting day.
India is using the oldest, and most feeble, pretext in the book — maintenance of public order — to suppress public dissent. This is not how a country that markets itself as “the world’s biggest democracy” behaves. This is how undemocratic states such as Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt wield control over their people.
As is the case in most rebellions, the protests roiling Kashmir are driven largely by the youth, the demographic that is most active on social media. Burhan Wani, the young separatist leader whose assassination last year in July triggered the ongoing wave of unrest in the valley, also used such sites — an effective tool for organising mass uprisings and street agitation — to mobilise his fellow Kashmiris towards joining the resistance.
India has already done its utmost to prevent the issue from being internationalised by refusing the UN access to the area to investigate the excessive use of force by security personnel. The rights violations have become so egregious that respected voices in India itself are speaking out against them.
Instead of trying to address the underlying causes of the turmoil and growing disaffection, the state of India is now trying to further muzzle the people’s narrative, and seal off the valley from the outside world. It will not work.
As many other countries have discovered before, a people’s cry for justice cannot be silenced. The Kashmiris’ desperation will find a way out.
Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2017