South Asia

#Abhinandan, a Human Face to the Costs of War, Empowers Voices for Peace Online

As tensions between India and Pakistan escalated, people on both sides of the border urged their governments to find ways to maintain peace.

New Delhi: On Tuesday, after the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck targets in Pakistan and across the Line of Control in Kashmir, social media trends in both countries reflected a mix of celebration, anger and a gung-ho readiness for escalation – even to war – between the nuclear-armed powers.

On Twitter, users who cautioned against war, or called for peace, were aggressively trolled and silenced.

“It was incessant yesterday,” journalist Shilpa Rathnam told The Wire, “ranging from mild reprimands saying the timing of my tweet isn’t right, to outright MC-BC abuse.”

By Wednesday, however, the contesting claims that both countries shot down each others’ aircraft – and eventual videos proving the capture of an IAF pilot, alive and relatively unhurt – seem to have shifted the wind.

Videos purportedly of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman – being pulled from an angry mob by Pakistan Army soldiers, then upright and blindfolded in captivity, then drinking tea – put the first human face on the costs of a possible war.

On Twitter, around 2 pm on Wednesday, #SayNoToWar began to trend in both India and Pakistan – as those who opposed escalation found their voices.

The hashtag peaked at around 4:30 pm, appearing on tens of thousands of tweets, rising to #3 nationally in India (after #Abhinandan and #BringBackAbhinandan) and #1 in Pakistan (after #PakistanStrikesBack). Also trending at #5 in Pakistan was the hashtag #PeaceNotWar. It also trended globally, climbing as high as #3 (#Abhinandan was at #2)

They remained in these positions at the time of this story’s publication.