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Indian Government Shuts Down Most Social Media In Kashmir


The disputed region of Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has gone dark on social media. The Indian government last week ordered internet service providers to cut off access to Facebook, Twitter and 20 other platforms. Social media is where protesters in Kashmir used to post information the government doesn't like. With us now to talk about this is NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi.

Hi, there.


MCEVERS: Have you been able to reach activists in Kashmir in the past week?

MCCARTHY: Well, yes I have, Kelly. Kashmir has not been cut off from the world. I could reach people on the telephone and by email.


MCCARTHY: But they said that the amplifying (laughter) effect of social media has evaporated, right? They can't connect with a lot of people in ways that they'd like and the ways that they're used to. And there's a widespread feeling that the government really doesn't want people to be communicating with each other.

MCEVERS: If that's true, why did the government only cut social media? I mean, why not also cut the phone lines?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's a good question. I think largely, you know, young Kashmiris who are driving the dissent today in Kashmir - they don't like talking on the phone, so that form of communication is already really not so much of an issue. Phones can be tapped. They feel like they're under surveillance. They don't want the authorities to know what they're doing. So they much prefer these messaging sites like WhatsApp, which is one of the 22 platforms that was banned. You know, I couldn't reach people in Kashmir this past week on WhatsApp. So yes, these sites are being blocked.

But, you know, it's an internet blackout, and that's an important distinction. The government is blocking it because it feels that the web is creating a whole new set of issues on the ground, especially as they relate to these rising anti-India protests.

MCEVERS: So yeah, give us a sense of that. Like, how critical is social media to organizing these protests or any other anti-government activity?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think increasingly it is. You know, first of all, Kashmir has been in open revolt for the better part of nine months. And this is something the security forces are really struggling with. And they're changing - these demonstrations are changing. You've got young women now on the frontlines. You've got protesters running toward military operations rather than away from them.

And something else is going on, Kelly, that goes to the heart of the problem as far as the government is concerned. You've got young men with a stone in one hand and in the other a mobile phone taking videos. And they are capturing very graphic images. And these video warriors are posting this stuff. They're leapfrogging over mainstream media. They're putting it on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. And they're shaping public debate over Kashmir, and that's what the government hopes to shut down because they say it's feeding the anger in the Valley.

MCEVERS: Have the activists figured out ways to work around the internet blackout?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think it's a work in progress, but there are workarounds. For example, there are these VPNs, these virtual private networks, VPN providers - they encrypt communications, which is why people worried about privacy use them. I'm told they're not popular yet in Kashmir Valley. But remember, Kelly, you know, this is a generation out on the streets born in the 1990s. They tend to be quite tech savvy, and they're looking for ways to sidestep this ban.

You know, the protests still do erupt but with less publicity. You know, that said, the demonstrations in Kashmir tend to be spontaneous. They're really not driven by the internet. You know, they happen with or without it.

MCEVERS: Is there any sign that this blackout will end soon?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, the internet service providers don't seem to be raising any objections. The government said it's going to last one month. The army is very concerned about a hot summer in Kashmir - hot meaning politically hot. And it would like to cool things down now. And I think this blackout is more likely to be prolonged than it would be ended early.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi. Thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "EVEREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.