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In the last few days, several Twitter and Instagram handles have changed their display picture to red to support the people of Kashmir who are facing a lockdown since the government decided to abrogate Article 370. Two months ago, many social media users had changed their display picture to blue to protest against a crackdown in Sudan.

ThePrint asks: Twitter, Insta go red: Does display-picture activism make sense when Kashmir is in lockdown?

The red display picture honours Kashmir’s suffering, because blood has no provenance

Kaveree Bamzai
Senior journalist 

If there is one thing social media activism has done, it is to wake up the social media activist in India. Good or bad, they now have an opinion on everything, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality to the abrogation of Article 370, from rainbows to red.

In an era where hatred gets more traction than love, civic activism on social media is welcome. As the state of Jammu and Kashmir ceases to exist and its people are yet to be taken on board, it is imperative they feel part of the country, which has suddenly woken up to the possibilities of moving there, buying its land and, in quite hateful videos, wanting to marry its women.

So far, Kashmir has seemed nothing more than a “disputed territory” to the rest of the world. The red display picture honours their suffering, because blood has no provenance. It doesn’t ask whether you are Hindu or Muslim, because in Kashmir the blood of many has been shed, of terrorists, of civilians and of soldiers. Families have been torn asunder, homes destroyed, lives wasted, and memories lost forever.

Jammu and Kashmir may have been made a union territory, but its people are the same as they were before 5 August. They may be angrier, more anxious, and more troubled. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-needed speech to the change of DPs, we, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris in the rest of India, must make them feel a part of us. Whatever it takes.

Social media platforms end up being echo chambers, but they have great reach

Manasa Mohan
Associate Editor, ThePrint

It’s a whole other world out there on social media, and its true potential is just being unlocked in India.

It’s where India’s #MeToo movement gained steam, it’s where Donald Trump goes to poo-poo people/politics, it’s where Indian men go to play the victim.

The sheer spectrum of it means it’s a platform for not the best of ideas, but it’s a space where the most-heard voice doesn’t have to be the loudest.

Social media activism’s main USP is its reach. A hashtag that turns into a trend can let someone far removed from the situation and the context know what is happening outside their microcosm.

True, these platforms — especially Twitter/Facebook/Instagram — end up being echo chambers, but they definitely expand the reach, which is far more than that of privacy-invading WhatsApp groups.

Which brings us to the question — what does this mean for what’s happening on the ground? As it stands, going red on Insta and Twitter keeps the conversation going. It’s where unpopular opinions can be voiced (to an extent). In those few minutes that people in Kashmir manage to access their social media accounts briefly, it’s a burning bush at a distance that tells them they’re not alone despite being cut-off. It’s solace.

Can it turn into real action? In a state-versus-citizen scenario, it requires the kind of mass conviction that the streets of Hong Kong have been witnessing over the last few months.

Social media conversations can help turn the tide, but it’s a slow process. It can, however, concentrate similar opinions. And if you catch the right influencers, it can be a game-changer.

Also read: Modi has clean-bowled Imran Khan with Kashmir yorker

Easy to dismiss online activism, but it works because it gives a sense of collective opinion & action

Shivam Vij
Contributing editor, ThePrint

Using a hashtag, changing your social media profile name or photo are some of the most powerful means of online activism. It is easy to dismiss online activism, but it works, it matters, because it gives a sense of collective opinion and action.

‘How many people care about this subject?’ we often hear. ‘Who are these people?’ ‘But they don’t all sit and decide together to take a position every evening in Khan Market, do they?’

Those are the kind of questions that online activism seeks to answer. One person changes his/her profile photo to plain red, and a lot of others start following that. Without exchanging a word, people come together to make a point. Individual fingers join to make a fist.

Everybody uses online activism. Remember how, before the elections, the BJP and its chowkidars to their names on social media?

Changing social media display pictures to red may not result in lifting of the lockdown in Kashmir, or it may. The government keeps a close eye on social media to gauge public opinion. Our Prime Minister is Twitter-obsessed.

In case the clampdown is lifted after a month instead of two months, the government is not going to tell you, ‘We saw on Twitter how unpopular it was’. The thing about activism is that often the results aren’t measurable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Display-picture activism by a handful can’t really change the lives of Kashmiris

Sajid Ali 
Journalist, ThePrint

Display-picture activism by a handful can’t really change the lives of Kashmiris. The majority in India favour the Narendra Modi government’s move to scrap Article 370. Just look at social media comments on any news report on Kashmir, and you will know what the majority feel. Even international journalists have been labelled ‘anti-national’ for reporting that people in Kashmir are not happy with the decision.

The narrative on Kashmir, or for that matter on lynchings, passing of draconian laws and dissent, is dominated by ‘government-friendly’ channels. Listen to the conversations at regular dhabas and chai shops, and you will realise that is it the Right-wing thought that dominates the popular opinion. And, this phenomenon is not necessarily a creation of IT cells of political parties.

That’s why I don’t think that going red for Kashmir will get the kind of attention that going blue for Sudan did two months ago, or become an anthem like the protest slogan during the Arab Spring.

Turning display picture on Twitter and Instagram to red to protest against lockdown in Kashmir is a praiseworthy attempt, but it is unlikely to bring real change. The WhatsApp university graduates are ready to rebuff anything contrary to their narrative.

Also read: Modi’s ‘James Bond’ Ajit Doval comes out in the open to keep Kashmir calm

For a Kashmiri who has not been able to contact family for days, red display picture a sign of solidarity

Revathi Krishnan
Journalist, ThePrint

Home Minister Amit Shah Monday announced the government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, but the clouds of uncertainty had gathered over Kashmir even before that.

Close to 38,000 troops had been deployed, and Valley politicians like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were placed under house arrest before the move was announced in Parliament.

Let’s be clear that the Valley was under lockdown and communication channels were cut off when Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two union territories. An already alienated people had their agency reduced to nothing.

On might argue that those changing their display pictures are just armchair activists. But for the Kashmiris in other parts of India – who have not been able to contact their families for days and have seen insensitive and sexist remarks being made against Kashmiri women – the red display picture is a sign of solidarity. The red DP tells them that there are people who are ready to hear them out.

Those with red display picture are possibly telling the world that they care more about the people than the ‘disputed’ land. It is definitely not enough, but it does make a difference.

By Revathi Krishnan and Taran Deol

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  1. Wow, this the height of hypocrisy. Why no display picture activism in support of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Pandits were brutally raped and murdered in Kashmir.

  2. Why twitter and so called human rights organization are silent on Yemen issue. Yemen is brutally bombed by KSA, USA and its European allies since last four years.

    • Yemen kuchh faasle par hai. Kashmir hamara hissa hai, aur dil ke bahut kareeb hai. 2. There is a lot of vile material sloshing around on social media. However, I have found it a repository of a lot of factual information which is slipping through the cracks of mainstream media. Also of opinions that sometimes get drowned in the din of majoritarianism. Anything which sends a message to the people of Kashmir that they are in our thoughts and prayers is welcome.

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