Govt to curb use of social networking to fan unrest ahead of Amarnath yatra

State government is looking at means to curb the use of social networking sites for spreading “ militancy’’ in the state with the Police top brass asking for strict action against  those who are using networking sites to fan unrest ahead of Amarnath yatra that begins later this month.

The security agencies in the state see that the social networking sites are being increasingly used to fan the unrest here in Kashmir  and see this as a new threat by people “ who manipulate social media from the comfort of their homes to spread rumours and influence youths.’’ Police have noted with concern that the youth use computers and smart phones to fan unrest with the police top brass asking the Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) heading the different districts to control this phenomenon.

The  immediate worry for security agencies is the Amarnath Yatra that starts on  29 June as an increasing number of youth now have access to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. There are fears that the networking sites could be used to fan unrest and create “communal disturbance’’ ahead of the 40-day pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

 According to senior police officials  they are keeping a close watch on the networking sites and fear that even the “rumours could be floated to disrupt the peace in Kashmir.’’ A senior security official sad that the entire state can be “plunged into communal divide,”  that could further vitiate the Kashmir situation.

Notably, Kashmir witnessed protests and shutdown recently over the killing of HM militant commander, Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, and his associate in a gunfight in South Kashmir area of Tral last month. The Authorities had to impose curfew and restrictions in Srinagar and other places in the Kashmir in response to the strike call that was given by the joint resistance leadership to protest the killing of Sabzar and his associate.

The Kashmir Valley remained on the edge after Sabzar was killed in a gunfight with the government forces in Saimoh village of Pulwama district along with his associate, Faizan Ahmad.  Both belonged to Rathsuna village of Tral tehsil where they were buried in the village’s martyrs graveyard as thousands attended their burial. Authorities had imposed curfew and restrictions  to prevent protests in the aftermath of Hizbul commander’s death. A civilian was also killed allegedly in cross firing between militants and security forces during the encounter while several youth were injured in the subsequent protests that were triggered subsequently.

According to officials what worries them was the fact that the social chat groups are active not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but the youth are also participating from other parts of country and rest of the world.

Officers cite the recent example of a constable from the Kashmiri Pandit community  to use of networking sites to fan unrest. The constable went missing and his body was found in north Kashmir’s Kupwara, about 90 km from here, after a thorough search, but even before the investigations began, people in the Pandit community posted stories that he had been kidnapped by militants and had died a “martyr’s” death.

The impact of social media on the case was so profound that it began to be probed as a militancy-related case. However, a Special Investigating Team (SIT), constituted by Director General of Police S P Vaid, later found that the constable had been murdered by a fellow policeman whom he had allegedly sodomised and threatened to make it public.

Another instance of trouble being engineered was a fake picture of a pond around the shrine of Goddess Ragnya Devi, also known as Kheer Bhawani, being shared on WhatsApp groups ahead of the annual Kheer Bhawani mela being celebrated today. According to the post, the water of the pond had turned black, which according to folklore indicates inauspicious times for Kashmir.

The government stepped in and released official photographs in an attempt to quell the rumours. They also tried to find those responsible. In the Valley, social media access had been controlled to a large extent after authorities clamped down on 22 websites. While many users in the Valley found a way out through virtual private networks (VPN), they found it difficult to share pictures or videos because of the clamp down on 3G and 4G networks.

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