Kashmir Report

Streaming violence on Facebook Live is the new standard of proof in Kashmir

Stone-pelters in the Valley want the event broadcast in real time, so that ‘people understand how stones are answered with bullets’.

On February 12, Frisal in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district thrummed with the news of local militants being holed up in a residential house. The security forces had cordoned off the place and were engaged in a gunfight with the militants.

Twenty-two-year-old Nayeem* rushed to the spot, smartphone in hand, joining hundreds of boys at the encounter site. In an attempt to help the trapped militants escape, the young boys were throwing stones at the police and paramilitary forces. Nayeem opened the Facebook app on his phone and started live-streaming the chaos before him. It was his turn to use the new ammunition in Kashmir: Videos.

Following the agitation in the summer of 2016 , when Hizbul Mujahdeen commander Burhan Wani was killed, the protests in Kashmir took a new turn, with more and more youths uploading videos on Facebook. Disillusioned by the portrayal of Kashmiris in mainstream Indian news media, young men took to live-streaming on Facebook – the videos, shot in real time, not only manifested the on-ground realities but also added a credibility to videos which left little room for manipulation.

After the recent bye-elections, the video wars have taken a harrowing turn. When a video showing a group of men of the Central Reserve Police Force being heckled and kicked by some youths in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district surfaced online, it evoked major outrage across the country, with cricketer Gautam Gambhir calling for “killing 100 jihadis for every slap on jawans”.

In response, counter-videos showing police assaulting young men in the Valley have flooded Indian social media, including a video which showed a civilian tied to an army jeep as a human shield.

Debunking false narratives

The video Nayeem shot in February, begins with the chants of a few young men in the background. Then, all that can be heard is the rumbling sound of gunshots. At some distance, a youngster lying face down on the ground tries to duck the bullets which seem to be coming from everywhere. After a while he frantically shouts “I am hit! I am hit!” The phone’s camera pans right and trails the young man, who runs until he falls down. A group of men surround him and try to cover his wound. The boy, later identified as a 24-year-old, succumbs to his injuries.

Play

In July 2016, the government clamped down on internet services in the Valley. After about six months, in January 2017, mobile data services were restored. Following the clashes at Degree College, Pulwama on April 15, protests erupted in colleges across Kashmir on Monday, leading to further clashes between students and police outside and inside the college premises. As the Facebook Live videos of these protests flooded the social media, internet and broadband services in the Valley may be suspended once again.

Soon after protests against Wani’s killing started to abate, most young men in Kashmir acquired Reliance Jio SIM cards, which provided them with free 4G internet access. Equipped with free, high-speed internet, stone-pelting began to be live-streamed.

On February 12, Frisal saw many young men with phone cameras live-stream the death. Hamid*, an undergraduate student, also went live from the spot multiple times on Facebook, broadcasting the stone-throwing closely.

“My videos debunk the claims of police that they exercise maximum restraint, as they show how the government forces fire bullets at us in response to stones,” said Hamid.

Play

Earlier, stone-throwers had disallowed people from taking photos or recording videos, for fear of being tracked down by the police.

The picture is different now. Hamid and three of his friends are part of an organised group that chooses to live-stream videos during clashes. “Anybody else who tries to capture video is not allowed,” he said. “We cannot trust everyone as they may be police agents in disguise.”

Young men who take part in stone-throwing want the event broadcast in real time, so that “people understand how stones are answered with bullets”.

Pakistan connection

Meanwhile, the police in Kashmir say that social media is being used by militant groups to influence the youth. The police consider the rampant uploading of violent videos to be “a threat to peace”, regardless of whether the videos depict officers being violent with civilians or the other way around. During a press conference on March 30, the Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid pointed out that social media was being used to instigate young men to throw stones, which helped militants escape the site.

Police authorities in Kashmir claim to have traced the connections of some 10,000 Facebook profiles to Pakistan. These profiles, they believe, are being used to provoke the youth and encourage them to hinder security operations. They claim that militant groups control some 300 groups on WhatsApp.

The Indian Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat in February said that those who obstruct anti-militancy operations would be treated as “over-ground workers of terrorists”. He went on to warn the youth of stern action in case they continue to clash with forces during encounters and broadcast them in real time. Despite General Bipin Rawat’s warning, young boys like Hamid continue to clash with the government forces near encounter sites and ensure live broadcasts.

Risking life and limb

In central Kashmir’s Chadoora, 14 kilometres away from Srinagar, hundreds of youth came out to clash with the security forces to help a militant trapped in a house escape on March 28. Zahid Rashid Ganai, 22, wanted to live-stream the video on his Facebook profile, but he was hit by a bullet in his neck and died before he could reach the hospital. When his body was being brought home in an ambulance, policemen stopped the vehicle near Lal Chowk and did not let it go further. One of the boys attending to the body live-streamed the entire episode through Facebook live. The video went viral within hours, evoking sharp criticism against the police action. Along with Ganai, two other boys were killed in police action near the encounter spot in Chadoora. The clashes between the youth and security forces continued for days after the encounter.

Play

Mehraj*, who lives in the same area as Zahid and owns a shop in Chadoora, would often go live on his Facebook page to broadcast clashes in the area. Even on the day of the encounter, Mehraj waded through a canal, ran across the mustard fields to the spot to capture all the action. “On the third day of protests, I came out of my home but a few hundred metres ahead, a group of police and paramilitary forces had blocked the way,” he said. “When I tried to move ahead, they threw stones at me, asking me to return. I stepped back and started to shoot a Facebook Live.” But when security forces noticed him recording a video, they chased him until he disappeared in an alley. He still shudders at how close he was to being caught that day. “I have more than 2,000 Facebook followers on my page,” he said. “My purpose of uploading the videos was to show the world what was going on ground here.”

On April 9, during the bye-poll in Srinagar Parliamentary constituency, eight youths were killed and dozens injured in clashes with security forces. To thwart further protests, and spread of information and misinformation about protests, and the smooth conduct of polls, authorities shut down the internet services in the Valley. It also curbed Kashmiris from broadcasting the protests in real-time on Facebook – it did not, however, stop people from recording videos during the clashes, to be uploaded once internet services have resumed.

To be on the safe side after the Chadoora episode, Mehraj has shared the videos with friends via apps like Shareit or Bluetooth. “When the videos are uploaded from multiple accounts, it is difficult for the police to trace the source,” he said.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Uninterrupted power supply during natural disasters can be a reality

The right material can protect electricity poles from getting damaged even during natural disasters.

According to a UN report, natural disasters in the last decade have occurred almost twice as often compared to two decades ago, with Asia being the hardest hit. The report reveals that the number of such events had gone up 14% annually between 2005 and 2015 compared to the period 1995-2014. Such findings have driven countries like UK and USA to accelerate their resilience building measures. ‘Resilience’ implies preparedness and having a robust coping mechanism to deal with the damage wrought by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other violent natural events. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has even launched a campaign called Making Cities Resilient which suggests, among other things, increasing the resilience of infrastructure for crucial services including electrical power, transport, healthcare and telecommunications.

India’s vulnerability to natural disasters

The UN report lists India as third among the countries hit by the highest number of weather related disasters in the past decade. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in its Annual Disaster Review for 2014 also listed India among the five countries most frequently hit by natural disasters.

According to the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project, almost 5,700 kilometers of India’s 7,500 kilometers of coastline are highly vulnerable to the impact of tropical cyclones and related meteorological hazards. Research by Verisk Maplecroft also shows that 82% of the population in India are exposed to natural hazards, compared with 50% of the population in China.

What is also disturbing is the increased vulnerability of populous Indian cities to the effects of these natural disasters, caused by growing population density, haphazard construction activities and inadequate preparedness. The recent Mumbai floods which crippled the city in August 2017, for example, were exacerbated by the city’s out-of-date drainage system and unbridled construction over the city’s natural nullahs, which otherwise could have effectively drained excess water. A report on World Disasters by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), lists Mumbai among the 10 most vulnerable cities in terms of floods and earthquakes. A survey shows that, on an average, 21 Indian cities scored between 2.5 to 4 points out of 10 on governance parameters that measure preparedness for disasters.

Regions like the North East in India are particularly susceptible to natural disturbances like earthquakes, floods and landslides. According to the National Flood Commission, Assam, for example, accounts for 9.4% of the total flood prone area in the country. The commission estimated that due to floods, Assam suffered a loss of Rs, 3,100 crores in the past five decades. The whole of Brahmaputra Valley in Assam is in fact considered one of the most hazard prone regions in the country, with more than 40% of its land (3.2 million hectares) being susceptible to flood damage.

All these point to the need for resilience building measures, particularly to protect crucial infrastructure like electrical power – one of the first casualties during a natural disaster. For example, when Hurricane Sandy struck the US East Coast in 2012, about 2,427 utility poles were toppled or broken, reportedly shutting off power to more than 8.5 million households. Back home, when Cyclone Wardah hit Chennai in December 2015, power supply was disrupted in the city and its neighbouring districts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur. Reports said thousands of concrete poles just collapsed and reportedly 32,000 poles had to be replaced in the three districts. Government officials were even quoted as saying that the estimated loss from uprooted poles alone was about Rs 65 crore. Inability of electricity poles (also called utility poles) to withstand strong winds contributes significantly to the disruption of power supply during such natural occurrences.

So how can critical infrastructure like electricity poles be saved during a disaster like a cyclone? One way could be to use better-suited material.

Ensuring power supply during natural contingencies

When typhoon Rammasun hit Guangdong in China, more than 70,000 concrete and metal poles collapsed. Earlier, in the aftermath of the massive Chuetsu earthquake in Japan in 2004, about 3,400 utility poles supporting communication cables were broken or toppled.

A post-event assessment revealed that many of the damaged poles were concrete. Concrete poles are comparatively difficult to repair or replace because of their weight and dependence on heavy machinery to install them. Besides, concrete has low tensile strength and often requires the use of materials like steel for reinforcement. When moisture seeps in through cracks in the concrete, the steel reinforcement rusts leading to further deterioration of the concrete pole.

There have been other instances of concrete and metal poles being completely destroyed by natural forces. In tornadoes that ripped through Florida in the late 90s for example, even 100-foot spun concrete transmission poles tested to withstand 250 mph winds, toppled. Ice storms such as the 1998 North American Ice Storm caused over a 1,000 steel towers to collapse under the accumulated weight of the ice. Some of these incidents led to the continued use of wood as a preferred material for utility poles. But environmental concerns emerged due to the use of certain chemicals for treatment of the wooden poles. Additionally, wooden poles are also vulnerable to natural disasters - in the earlier mentioned ice storm, over 30,000 wooden poles were found to have collapsed in addition to the steel ones. In the last few years, research has been conducted into the use of various other materials for utility poles even as wood, steel and concrete remained popular choices. But while all of them have their advantages, they also come with distinct disadvantages.

Concrete, for example, is strong, fire resistant and termite/rot proof, but has as previously mentioned, other disadvantages. Galvanized steel offers similar advantages as concrete, while also being lighter. However, it is also expensive, energy intensive to make, and hazardous since it conducts electricity. Wood, traditionally a popular material for utility poles, is also prone to decay and termite attacks, besides having low resistance to fire when unprotected.

All these factors have led to the development of new materials such as fibre reinforced polymer (FRP), which have proved to offer durability even during high intensity typhoons. For example, in the Rammasun typhoon mentioned earlier, a group of FRP utility poles were found to stand firm even when exposed to strong winds. These poles are made of a special kind of high-strength, high-flexibility polyurethane (PU) composite material called ‘Elastolit®’ developed by BASF. The poles have a strength that is easily 10 times greater than their weight and are only 250 kg, making them easy to transport and install them virtually anywhere. They are more durable and resilient than concrete poles, can withstand severe weather conditions and can also be optimized for specific conditions.

As in the case of Guangdong in China, replacing concrete poles with these FRP poles in areas facing high exposure to natural disasters in India has the potential to reduce the disruption caused to power supply during such events. To know more about BASF’s initiatives in this regard, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.