By Zahid Rafiq
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Indian authorities in Jammu and Kashmir are scrambling to quash a rash of viral videos of alleged human rights abuses, blaming them for fueling the violence in the Indian-held part of the disputed Kashmir region.
Indian Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat late Saturday met with Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister, reportedly to discuss the videos showing abuses of Kashmiris by Indian forces, and a possible social media crackdown to stem the flow.
The viral cellphone videos -- depicting alleged gross human rights violations such as an Indian soldier shooting a teenager in the head, and a Kashmiri man being tied to an Indian army jeep and being used as a human shield -- are causing huge headaches for local Indian authorities.
According to sources in the Indian police who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media, there have been high-level meetings to discuss ways to halt the videos’ proliferation.
“Each of those videos is worth a thousand news stories,” a senior police official told Anadolu Agency.
“People are sharing them on social media and we’re helplessly watching everyone watch them. So don’t be surprised if Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp suddenly stop working in Kashmir.”
Shahid Chaudhary, the head of Kashmir’s information department, told an Indian newspaper that the government is working on a full-scale social media policy and hinted at the possibility of stopping WhatsApp.
“WhatsApp groups are circulating rumors and speculation, and by the time a denial is put out, the damage has been done,” Chaudhary was quoted as saying. “We can’t track down each of the hundreds of thousands of youth active on social media, we can’t stop them unless we take away the medium.”
- Indian killing triggers protest
Separately, Sunday saw a complete shutdown in the region in protest of Saturday’s killing by Indian armed forces of a 22-year-old civilian in the capital Srinagar.
Demonstrations with people chanting slogans for Kashmir’s independence were reported from several areas in the valley, as were clashes between young men and heavily armed Indian forces.
“An internal inquiry into the allegations of firing which led to the death of Sajad Hassan has prima facie revealed that our men in Batmaloo fired, leading to the unfortunate death of the youth,” Indian Border Security Force spokesman Kashmir Division told reporters.
He said that when people in the Sheikh Dawood colony threw stones at their vehicles their personnel fired “a few aerial shots but unfortunately one of the bullets hit the youth.”
Hassan’s killing was the ninth killing of a civilian by Indian forces in a single week, and as the possibility of yet another full-blown pro-independence uprising against Indian rule looms in the disputed Kashmir region, Indian authorities appear to be worried.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Kashmiri resistance groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan. More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.