The Internet intifada The Internet intifada
FAYAZ KABLI/ REUTERS
Armed with only stones and social media, a generation born and brought up in
turmoil is paralyzing Kashmir, discovers Sanjay Kak
When columns of the Indian Army drove through Srinagar July 7, rifles pointed out at the city, it was meant as a show of force; to tell its ‘mutinous’
population — and those watching elsewhere — just who
was really in charge. Disconcertingly for the Indian government, it has had the opposite effect. Alarm bells have
been sounding off: the situation in Kashmir is again explosive; the lid looks ready to blow off.
Although the army has for years virtually controlled rural
Kashmir, images of grim-faced soldiers on a ‘flag-march’ in
Srinagar carried a different symbolism. For Srinagar has
been the exception — the showpiece of ‘normalcy’, of a possible return to the bosom of India’s accommodating heart.
Typically, the well-publicized entry of the soldiers was followed by a flurry of obtuse clarifications: the army was not
taking over Srinagar; this was not a flag-march, only a
‘movement of a convoy’; yes, it was a flag-march, but only
in the city’s ‘periphery’. The contradictions seemed to stem
from a reluctance to deal with the elephant in the room:
after more than 15 years, the army had once again been
called out to stem civil unrest in Srinagar.
When the Indian Army was deployed in Kashmir during
the 1990s, the rebellion seemed to be fast spinning out of
India’s control. Twenty years later, what has changed?
There is now a massive investment in a ‘security grid’, built
with more than 500,000 security personnel and shored up
by a formidable intelligence network, said to involve some
100,000 people. The armed militancy, too, has officially
Meanwhile, the exercise of ‘free and fair’ elections has
been carried out to persuade the world that democracy has
indeed returned to Kashmir. (Elections certainly delivered
the young and telegenic Omar Abdullah as chief minister;
but about democracy, Kashmiris will be less sanguine. They
will recognize it the day the military columns and camps
are gone from the valley.)
Yet July was haunted by echoes of the early years of
the tehreek, the movement for self-determination. As a
brutally imposed lockdown curfew entered its fourth day,
there was no safe passage past the paramilitary checkpoints — not for ambulances, not for journalists. For those
four days, Srinagar’s newspapers were not published; local
cable channels were restricted to just 10 minutes a day, and
still had to make time for official views. SMS services
remained blocked the entire month; in some troubled
towns, cell-phone services were completely discontinued.
But Srinagar still reverberated with slogans every night,
amplified from neighborhood mosques: ‘Hum kya chahte?
Azadi!’ ( What do we want? Freedom!) and ‘Go back, India!
The real barometer of the panic in the Indian establish-
ment, though, was not the army’s flag march. It was the
frantic speed (and dismal quality) of the attempts to
obscure the crisis. In place of politics, it was once again left
to disinformation to staunch the hemorrhage.