Basharat Ali

Sending Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, hand sanitizers and asking him to wash the blood off his hands is a politically problematic gesture. That is basically assuming his hands to have been clean before shaking them with Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister who till last year was denied visa to US for his involvement in the massacre of Muslims during 2002 Gujrat riots. But wait, the world saw the two hug tight, something characteristic of Mr. Modi. Would the Indian activists send him body wash too? Let’s leave that to their imagination.

Cartoon courtesy: Mir Suhail

For the general public, internet appears to be a sacred place. It gives us so much information that we lose ourselves to it. Things like Google and Facebook have replaced everything else in our life. The interface on our computer screens totally blinds us. We forget that there is an organisation of human minds behind all this who are ultimately subservient to political structures, States to be precise.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s book When Google Met Wikileaks is an indicting testament against internet giant Google in particular and websites like Facebook in general. There is a military tank standing in the way of a text message between you and your wife, Assange said in an interview. An “ever closer union between the State Department and the Silicon Valley” is how he described The Digital Age, a book by Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt and director of Google ideas, Jared Cohen.

What you do on Facebook does not stay on Facebook. It goes to governments any time they want it. There is no privacy. There is no freedom. Your Facebook post can disappear like a pheran clad Kashmiri on a snowy day never to be seen again. A certain ‘like’ can land you in jail. Your personal message is never so personal. So, Mr. Zuckerberg is no saint. His creation, Facebook, is like that ‘god’s eye’ from Fast and Furious 7. It stores all your information, all your activities. Like that Vodafone dog, it follows you wherever you go.

Let’s not digress much.

The Modi show at the Silicon Valley has ended. The media hoo-ha has not. The Digital India program has received enough coverage, perhaps more than anticipated by the people behind the idea. Facebook ran an official campaign to promote it. Zuckerberg updated his picture to show his support. However, this happened at a rather wrong time. Or may be the right time.

It is no surprise that the Indian State and the client regime in the occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir decided to block all internet access to people on Eid. This has not happened for the first time. The ban on the internet in Kashmir is so common that it does not seem to affect people anymore. However, this ban is representative of the suppression people of Kashmir are forced to. Till recently there was a ban on SMS service. For a long time pre-paid mobile connections remained dysfunctional. As the government installed adequate technology for surveillance, these facilities were restored. Every time the government premeditates a coordinated political activity by people in Kashmir, it blocks the internet, imposes undeclared curfew, arrests youngsters in nocturnal raids and house-arrests pro-freedom leaders.

The ban on the internet helps India to maintain narrative control over Kashmir. The Indian media passes on information to people which is not only factually inaccurate but also biased. It is a routine followed by the governments to control people, their ideas. The internet, which is thought to be the only platform for the oppressed to spread their voice, fails to deliver.

Consider the 2011 uprising in Egypt. The general perception is that internet contributed a great deal in organising protests. But consider this: the moment internet was taken off, the uprising came crumbling down resulting in the failure of the revolution. The internet, therefore, is a tool for the States to be used for their benefit as and when required.

The ban on the internet in Kashmir this time coincided with Zuckerberg’s call for global internet access at the UN. (Ironically, UN is the organisation that is said to have asked India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute over Kashmir through referendum, allowing people of Jammu and Kashmir to choose for themselves. Seems like UN has become an official international forum where lying is legal) However, his meeting with Modi the other day and his criminal silence on surveillance tactics in India and frequent internet blockade in the disputed territory of Kashmir proves Assange right; that these forums are getting more closer to State’s than ever before.

Zuckerberg and Modi make perfect partners. Both of them want to assume absolute powers, in different realms of course. While as Modi government in India does all it takes to realise the dream of Hindu Rashtra as espoused by its ideological fountainhead, the RSS, Zuckerberg’s Facebook is fast dominating the cyberspace and dictating its monopoly. Its association with different other technological giants with similar interests is giving rise to a separate kind of an ‘axis of evil’ which is threatening the individual rights and freedoms. Together with States like India, they are militarising the online space and limiting the freedom one would otherwise enjoy.

Despite knowing all this, people are so dependent on the internet (most of us on Facebook) that we literally can’t do anything to challenge these alliances. We may wish to ‘report’ them, but the command and control lie with them and in return we will find ourselves removed. The best we can do in Kashmir is continue saying, Hum kya chahtey Azaadi.

The author is a Research Scholar at the Academy of International Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia specialising in South Asian Insurgency Movements.

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