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Opinion

Don’t shoot the messenger

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Anjali Mehta

Since it was introduced to the world in 2009, WhatsApp has become one of the more popular messaging apps with an estimated 1.5 billion users worldwide.
It was acquired by Facebook in 2014, an event which seems to have resulted in a massive spurt in the number of users in India. Currently, there are around 2 million WhatsApp users in India, of which more than 50 per cent are from rural areas.
Recent lynchings of five people suspected to be child-lifters by a mob in Maharashtra were sparked by a rumour circulating on WhatsApp. This generated much debate about this messenger service.
The Indian Electronics and Information Technology ministry asked Facebook Inc (which owns WhatsApp) to find ways by which they can curb transmission of irresponsible messages.
I believe that putting external curbs on this particular medium may not be a sound or practical idea. Here’s why:
To my mind, someone inclined to spread a rumour, create a ruckus or induce a riot, will do so by any means at their disposal. It could be through public or private meetings, sermons, lectures, Facebook and other social media sites, YouTube videos, loudspeakers, pamphlets, in fact anything in the firmament.
Violence has been an integral part of mankind’s existence since millennia. So has gossip. As have rumours. Social media is a fairly recent entrant into the list of human preoccupations.
On the Indian continent we witnessed the carnage of partition with thousands of lynchings. Millions of refugees worldwide will tell you of the atrocities that have been committed on them.
Human greed, intolerance, a lust for power and money and divisiveness are to blame. Social media is merely a communication tool. One does not need mass phone aided mobilisation to lynch a man or even a small group. A few barbaric citizens will suffice.
Humans have been communicating through sign language, through drumbeats in forests and mountains, Morse codes, smoke signals and several other ingenious ways.
How can you prevent human beings from communicating with each other? History is replete with examples of ‘underground’ resistance movements. There was no social media in those days. Decrying WhatsApp will only make users switch to another format.
The app itself is really well designed in that one can share messages, videos, attachments, photos, rendering it quite complete in itself. There is end to end encryption which means that no third person can view a message including the service provider.
There are no distracting advertisements. Being so easy to use makes it an effective communication tool for villagers and an apt app for facilitating a ‘digital India’. It is currently a free service.
There are options to mute or block a number, exit a group, delete a group, delete a message within seconds. It is very self-regulatory. Users can actively choose to ignore or not forward a rabble-rousing message or one can call it out publicly or report Spam.
WhatsApp features allow a large degree of privacy as well as autonomy. It is contemplated that WhatsApp can be a payment portal in the near future as well as a safety app as geographical location is pinpointed.
Attempts to ‘sanitize’ the conversation by having all posts filtered through an administrator on WhatsApp create practical and ethical dilemmas. People would not be able to communicate swiftly and meaningfully in real time as there would be a time lag – related to the availability of the administrator.
The administrators themselves may have personal biases or lack discretion. This post of being an arbiter of conversations, by its very nature would have to perforce be a full time job. If not compensated, the job’s fairly thankless nature would have few takers. The moment it becomes a paid job, it would then be liable to be controlled by those rendering the payment as often happens in the classic editor-owner ideological/ethical clashes of print media.
In the past, an idea was mooted, to hold the group administrator accountable for any inappropriate posts on that group. This suggestion is bizarre because nobody can determine beforehand what is on a person’s mind.
People are invited to a group because they form part of a particular cohort: say people who work together, or have studied together, etc. To try to first filter out who would be welcome in the group based on their leanings and personalities attacks the very foundation of healthy interaction – a multi-faceted, inclusive and rich dialogue.
Moreover, people’s opinions, likes and dislikes change with time. Sometimes, an otherwise very responsible citizen may be unable to maintain their cyber composure under emotional duress. Above all, the truth needs to be told.
It is critical that everyone who has attained adulthood be deemed responsible for their own thoughts and actions. To burden a third party with this responsibility seems to completely absolve the author of an unsuitable post of their duties and instead targets an innocent bystander – administrator/medium instead.
Misuse of social mediums across the board has often resulted in disastrous consequences. Examples include the Blue Whale internet game driving teenagers to suicide, or stalkers and paedophiles on Facebook (using information voluntarily provided by users themselves) or the notorious ‘trolling’ on Twitter.
Recently our own external affairs minister was openly and abusively trolled on Twitter. Astonishingly the government was relatively silent and low key in its defense of their own minister. It was citizens who tried to come to her rescue.
In these times, when a large section of the print and TV media is perceived by many to be deeply influenced by the government, the viability of alternate channels of communication between citizens is imperative. WhatsApp has an important role to play.
Though there are many fabricated videos which aim to spread hate or falsely discredit someone, some such videos are deliberately introduced to obfuscate things and discredit the medium itself. To make people doubt the validity of some of the horrific but true things they see and prevent them from reporting it or taking useful action.
To counteract this trend, there are now helpful tutorials available which educate people on how to spot a doctored video. The bottom line remains that individuals must have the self-discipline to not share a video which is not from a trusted source or which contains inflammatory material.
There are already reporting methods in place to report cyber abuse or misuse of cyberspace though guidelines can be made more clear-cut. One can highlight it electronically to the office of the app provider as well as register a FIR with the cybercrime units of local police stations.
The company office can debar the accused individual from using this medium. The company often needs to do a balancing act between enabling freedom of speech and increasing user base versus conscience and social responsibility.
The company can further report them to police officials. The local police can apply any section of the Indian penal Code as relevant and have the person booked.
In conclusion, people themselves should show a low level of tolerance for divisive or incendiary posts on WhatsApp, calling out the person or reporting them to authorities.
We can come to each other’s rescue on any medium when someone is being bullied, or ourselves attempt to combat and thwart rumour mongering by ignorant or ill motivated people. Try as we may, if we are to be intellectually honest, we cannot pass the buck for our shortcomings onto a messaging app.


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Opinion

Silence and mayhem go together in India

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Anand K Sahay

There is perhaps nothing more striking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s present tenure — which ends in a few months — than its silence on matters where the clear choice of right and wrong, moral versus immoral, ethics or the want of it, and adherence to the Constitution or its negation, has presented itself.

Since a clear endorsement of what society considers bad, wrong, undesirable or lacking in constitutional propriety or probity cannot be a public good, and may cost at election time, remaining quiet is designed as a clever tactic. Its purpose is to offer comfort to wrongdoers (sometimes evildoers) and suspected criminals, thus causing injury to the notion of what’s right, valid and appropriate conduct for an elected government.

That, in turn, amounts to a violation of the compact between the government and the country’s citizens, and causes visible injury to the oath every minister of the government takes at the time of being sworn in.

In the process the state and the government lose their authority. The emperor begins to be seen as being denuded. There may be murmurs of rebellion but the people do not rise in revolt because too much force is ranged on the other side. They would rather bide their time.

Two recent instances come to mind — though several more can be cited — of the regime’s sly silence. Consider first the case of M.J. Akbar in relation to the vigorous #MeToo campaign and the stunning allegations of sexual predation made against him by more than 20 women.

The minister of state for external affairs was eventually forced to resign under the weight of his omissions and commissions in the course of dealing with young women over whom he had authority. But the point here is the reaction of the BJP, the ruling party; the RSS, which holds that party’s moral compass and is its moral arbiter; and more importantly the government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made Mr Akbar minister, and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj under whom he served.

It would be understandable if all the above had remained circumspect and quiet when the minister was overseas on assignment. But BJP and RSS spokesmen, speaking on television, were anything but discreet. They in fact went out of their way to attack the women who had accused Mr Akbar — asking for proof of allegations of sexual misconduct as if these can ever exist (by the very nature of the alleged crime) — and the RSS representatives, in particular, maintaining that India “is not a banana republic and the rule of law exists here”.

In effect, the victims of the minister’s alleged predatory conduct were sought to be demonised and traduced. Those engaging in this sport gave no evidence of appreciating that moral uprightness is a requirement in governance, not legal proof, when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.

They had obviously not heard of a former Prime Minister, a man called Lal Bahadur Shastri (who had resigned as railway minister in the Nehru Cabinet, accepting constructive responsibility when a train accident occurred).

This may be the RSS’ idea of morality, but the Narendra Modi government should have had its own mind on the matter since, unlike the RSS, the government is a creature of the Constitution.

The Prime Minister was morally duty-bound to give the minister marching orders upon his return to India if only to make the point that a sustained record of alleged crimes against women cannot be tolerated as it robs the government as well as the society of its dignity, and the entire class of women of their very being and soul. But Mr Modi maintained a sphinx-like silence as is his wont, and this encouraged

Mr Akbar to file a case of criminal defamation — pointedly not civil defamation — against the first woman to have raised her finger.

The government’s ear-splitting silence was consistent with its lack of any communication with the public whenever serious crimes against women rocked the country, signifying that the Union government had no sympathy for the females whose bodily integrity had been criminally encroached upon.

Two shameful episodes illustrate this — the Kathua gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old child near Jammu and the subsequent open public defence of the criminals by ministers of the J&K government to the shock of the entire country, with the government at the Centre remaining stoical. The second numbing episode is that of a BJP MLA in Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, raping a minor girl and having her father tortured and murdered at a police station when he went there to lodge a complaint.

The second recent instance of governmental encouragement through the use of silence as tactic concerns RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. During his recent three-day outreach programme in New Delhi, the RSS leader declared, in effect, that while the Supreme Court may be adjudicating the Ayodhya title dispute, in reality it was the Temple Construction Committee (of the Hindutva outfits) that would decide the construction of the Ram temple (at the site where the Babri mosque was felled in 1992) — irrespective of the outcome of the court’s labours.

This was nothing if not heaping humiliation on the highest court of the land. But the government just stood and watched in a neutral stance. Perhaps the regime’s thinking is in harmony with the outrageous proposition outlined by the top boss of a dangerous outfit whose mention comes up in “riot after riot” (to recall the title of a book authored by Mr Akbar in his pre-BJP days).

This is not the only serious infraction the RSS leader is guilty of. Just weeks afterward, delivering his Vijayadashami address on October 18, Mr Bhagwat referred to the permitting of the entry of women to the Sabarimala temple (by a recent order of the Supreme Court) in inflammatory and prejudicial terms, choosing to renew his assault on the top court with an emotional pitch to the target audience, doubtless with a view to rabble-rousing.

In the context of the Sabarimala judgment, the man actually said that “repeated and brazen onslaughts” happened to “Hindu society alone”. In a Hindu-majority country, this is a call to arms for the Hindus on a false and hypocritical premise. The call to arms is not against the Supreme Court, not even only against the traditionally targeted minorities, but on the Constitution itself. Once again, the government answered the challenge with silence.

It is time to ponder if the leader of the RSS would have thought it prudent to speak in this manner and idiom if he didn’t have under his command a trained paramilitary-style volunteer force, which receives the benign attention of the government. It’s also worth wondering what’s left of the sheen of the government and the majesty of the law. Big trouble lies ahead. We may as well brace for it.

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Opinion

The truth of BJP victory in Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rahiba R. Parveen

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed victory in the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the “stupendous effort” of the party.

“I salute the entire team of @BJP4JnK for their stupendous efforts in the local body elections. I am glad that they reached out to every section of society and explained the Party’s development agenda,” he tweeted.

Both are factually correct. After all, the BJP did win 100 of the 624 wards in the Kashmir region — its best performance ever — and will head six municipal bodies.

It won over 212 of the 520 wards in Jammu, a notable feat in view of the anti-incumbency of the last four years.
However, there’s a subtext to the BJP’s big achievement.

No contest

Of the 100 seats that it won in Kashmir, the party had no opponent in 76. In at least two seats, even the party’s own candidate stayed away from the polling booth.

That’s not all.

Of the 157 wards won by the Congress, 78 were uncontested. Independents won 178 wards, of which 75 witnessed no contest.

Of the 624 wards in Kashmir, as many as 185 wards still remain vacant in the absence of any candidate willing to contest. A significant 231 saw a single candidate, while just 208 witnessed a contest.

In Nawakadal, for example, BJP’s Arif Majeed Pampoori got 27 of the 45 votes polled, while the total number of voters registered for this ward are 5,372.

In Karan Nagar, Ashok Kabul (BJP) won by 73 votes of 144 polled. All 73 votes were cast by migrants.

Another victory for BJP was in Bagh-e-Mehtab, where Bashir Ahmed Mir secured eight votes of the nine polled. This ward has 5,118 electors.

Nazir Ahmed Gilkar from Basant Bagh won 77 votes of 133 polled; there are 13,748 electors in this ward.

Farooq Ahmad Khan alias Saifullah (BJP) lost to Nakul Matto in Tankipora (ward 33). A former militant, Khan could only get four votes. Of the four votes, three were cast by migrants.

In four militancy-hit districts of south Kashmir, BJP won 58 wards. Around 34 winners in these wards are non-Muslims. In the Anantnag municipal committee, the BJP secured 29 of 132 wards. In Shopian, of the 17 wards, it won 12. In Kulgam, of the 47 wards, the party won eight. In the Pulwama municipal committee, of the 69 wards, the BJP won nine.

The Congress won 50 seats in Anantnag against the BJP’s 29. The grand old party won 16 wards in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, while independents, including former National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu, won 49 of the 66 wards.

In its stronghold Jammu, the BJP fared on expected lines. It won 13 urban local bodies, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation, and emerged as the single-largest party in eight others. The Congress managed to win just three committees.

Of the 37 urban local bodies, the BJP won in 212 wards while Congress won just 110 wards, with the number two spot going to independents — 185 wards.

For the opposition Congress, the loss of face in Jammu, what with the BJP facing huge anti-incumbency, would be worrisome, observers said.

The saving grace for the Congress was that it won all 13 seats of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh and five of 13 seats in Kargil. The BJP won the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in 2014.

With the worst-ever polling percentage in the Kashmir Valley, the elections were always going to attract questions.
Adding to the controversy was the claim by governor Satya Pal Malik that a foreign-educated person would be the next mayor of Srinagar. That person, it now seems clear, will be Junaid Mattu. Immediately after the results were announced, separatist-turned-politician and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone nominated Mattu as his party’s mayoral candidate.

“Congratulations to PC Mayoral Candidate @Junaid_Mattu and the victorious candidates from PC for heralding a new change in Srinagar and thanks to Irfan Ansari and all my senior colleagues for his successful campaign management during the ULB elections,” Lone tweeted.

Governor Malik, who’s currently in charge of the state’s administration, said his government had managed to conduct “successful” elections under immense pressure.

“A biased person will count the percentage. My assessment of the election is everyone — both the mainstream parties, small parties, Hurriyat and terrorists — all of them opposed this election, but people still came (to vote),” Malik told ThePrint.

“In 2002 as well, the percentage was as low as it was (this time). So that way, I see no reason to feel very good or exalted. But yes, the basic thing which we should take note of is that entire election was violence-free. Not even a bird was harmed. In other elections — parliamentary and assembly — nine people died.

“We held these elections successfully. We could thwart the threats we (the administration) and the voters were given, and fight it out.”

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Opinion

TRANQUILITY OF PRESENT GENERATION: LOST LOVE AND CARE

The Kashmir Monitor

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By SEHRISH SHAFI

Tranquility is a state of physical ease that has several dimensions. In this digital world every work is carried out by artificial machines like robots, mixers, washing machines etc. Our life is has been made very easy with these artificial machines and our lives have become dependent on these machines. Before a decade people were served by the food that was cooked on firepot, (Daan in Kashmiri) and it was having the best taste. Nowadays, we cook food in rice cookers and on electric heaters that has some dangerous aspects associated with these electronic gadgets and some of the diseases and risks have been related with the use of these gadgets.

In olden days people were busy in their work which they were doing manually, like washing clothes by hands, cooking food on fire pots, going one place to another by foot etc., thereby consuming less resources, that was having double benefits like keeping environment free from pollutants and those who were doing manual labor remained always fit and healthy. Their minds were also busy with their work with limited wants. They always feel themselves in a relaxed and comfort zone. Currently, humans are full of desires and wishes. They make themselves busy with different types of modern electronic gadgets. People want to do things with more and more comfort.

Those muddy and wooden houses with joint families, listening the folklores of our ancestors were full of love and affection. The joint meals, the sharing of happy and sad moments, the visit of neighbors and relatives, the harmony of villages, the celebrations of festivals all are missing from the present generation, and the credit goes to mobile phones. The irony is that if a daughter or a son wants to share something with their parents they can’t as their parents are either busy in offices or in parties or with mobile phones. This has made life of present generation very strained, full of anger, disloyalty etc. We have left that comfort or placidity in the houses of mud, where all family members lived together with love and reminding us the culture that was prevalent in valley before few decades.

Everyone in this digital world wants the comfort zone and in every nook and corner people searches the calmness and peace. The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our life. No doubt present generation is having unlimited facilities still they are lacking the love and care. The artificial technologies will not provide them the care and love which they are of basic need. If we want to build a house, it must have a strong base and if the base is weak the house may fall at any time. So, is the case of present generation our base is so weak that we can fall at any level where it is difficult to recover and in teenage we need proper guidance and care from our parents or our elders that will have direct impact on our bright future and improper guidance or no guidance may make our future bleak.

Therefore, parents and elders have a role in shaping our future towards a better and happy life. They have to think, they have to ponder.

(The author is B. Sc I year student at Govt degree college Bijbehara)

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