Srinagar: The continued ban on social media and only slow speed 2G internet allowed in Kashmir has led to a flurry of memes and sarcastic jokes on social media by users in Kashmir. They have mocked the authorities for their unsuccessful attempts to completely firewall and block social media.
A large number of users have installed virtual private network (VPN) apps to access social media sites. Authorities and telecom companies have reportedly failed to block all VPNs. To try and counter this, the government has gone to other extreme – filing an ‘open FIR’ under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against all those who are “misusing” social media in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, young social media users in Kashmir are sharing memes and jokes on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The joke, they say, is on the government. Creative memes and videos are cropping up despite the ban on social media and slow speed 2G mobile internet which was restored last month.
One social media account shared a photo of a mobile SIM with 4G written on it which is attached to a LAN cable, apparently in an attempt to connect to 4G internet which remains banned in Kashmir since August 5 last year. “It’s just a tweet, not a weapon,” the tweet said.
Another Twitter account shared two photos showing both the frustration and the joy users in Kashmir are feeling – of being stuck with slow internet and having to use VPNs, and of finally being able to access the internet again.
Consider this sarcastic meme shared on Instagram, which shows the difference between the internet before and after August 5, when all communication lines were snapped ahead of the Centre reading down Article 370 of the constitution.
A meme shared on another Facebook page shows a gagged person, symbolising 4G internet, who is tied to a chair with ropes. “Please leave me, I have to go to Jammu Kashmir,” the gagged person pleads with the authorities.
Another Twitter user from Kashmir posted an image of Ahed Raez, a popular Kashmiri television drama character of the yesteryears, who is baffled by the ingenuity of Kashmiri social media users trying to subvert the social media ban by using VPNs yet to be shut down by the authorities.
A humorous Kashmir-specific Instagram page shared another meme which cracked a joke at the authorities for failing to stop social media usage in Kashmir despite bringing firewall experts from Bangalore to block scores of VPNs. The meme showed a locked gate standing in the middle of the open field. “Finally found the rare footage of the VPN firewall created by Bangalore experts in Kashmir,” it said.
Some users also used screen grabs from popular Bollywood films and dialogues to take on, and mock, the authorities for banning social media and restricting their internet access. Consider this one in which Sanjay Dutt is shown as a Kashmiri social media user who has successfully installed a VPN on his smartphone:
Or this meme in which a young Kashmiri social media user is running after a popular VPN installed by users to gain access to social media sites:
Creative dissent on the social media ban was also reflected in cartoons which surfaced on social media sites. Consider this “VPN cartoon” in which Chilia-Kalan, the 40-day period of harsh winter that starts from December 21, is asking Kashmiri users to give him a VPN so that he could leave Kashmir sooner.
According to Mudasir Ali, a freelance web designer based in Srinagar, there’s no firewall system that can’t be penetrated by users.
“As far as VPNs are concerned, the government-built firewall can block the known/identified ones only and new ones will keep on coming,” he said. “It’s a cat-mouse chase in an infinite loop.”
Ali believes the government is to blame for blacklisting the internet, forcing Kashmiris to use VPNs in order to access educational and entertainment websites.
“The VPN problem is the government’s own creation and resulted from the mismanagement of the whole social media blocking process,” he said.
Ali sees the creative memes, posts and videos shared on social media sites by Kashmiri users after installing VPNs as a larger comment on the incompetence of the authorities who want to indefinitely ban the internet and choke all mediums of public expression.
“The memes are put out there only to ridicule the incompetence of the government, because the whitelisting system is totally illogical,” he said. “If the internet was working normally with only social media services blocked, the VPN culture would have become less popular and containable.”
Another Kashmir-based IT professional said that every time the government blocks or bans one VPN service provider, newer mechanism of penetrating the firewall and newer VPNs surface.
“We have a saying for these tactics in Kashmiri, ‘Haenzov trave zaal, gaadev hechi wouteh’, which roughly means that when the fishermen started using nets to catch the fishes, the fishes learnt how to jump to escape the nets,” he said.
Following the reading down of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two union territories on August 5, the government imposed a lockdown and a complete ban on all communications networks. Mobile and broadband internet were also shut down on August 5 last year – the longest internet shutdown in the world imposed by any democracy.
Recently, the ban on 3G and 4G internet services was extended till February 24, when it will be reviewed again by the authorities. Only low-speed 2G internet is currently available, and users are only allowed to access ‘whitelisted’ websites.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar.