As India blocks internet, Instagram goes #RedForKashmir

If you’re seeing some of your Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook friends’ display photos turning blood red, it’s in honor of the crisis unfolding in Kashmir. 

People are raising awareness about the crisis in Indian-administered Kashmir with the hashtag #RedForKashmir and red photos while internet access remains blocked in the region following a ruling by the Indian government that experts say is not favored by Kashmiris on the ground. 

Kashmir has been a region of tension between the Indian and Pakistani governments since their independence in 1947. Though both countries claim the territory, each rules parts of it. On Monday, the Indian government revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, rendering the region without some special rights it had, such as its own constitution and decision-making rights.

In the build-up to the ruling, the government sent thousands of troops to the Muslim-majority region, as Al Jazeera reports. On Sunday, leaders in the region were placed under house arrest and internet access was cut off. 

Kashmiris and allies outside the region took to social media to heavily resist this move, with some sharing accounts of not being able to reach their family members stuck there. Sanna, a 23-year-old Kashmiri student who was traveling out of Kashmir on Tuesday, shared a thread detailing how difficult it was for her and her family to leave the region. 

“Panic was in the air and there was no relief,” she tweeted.

“A hospital requesting curfew passes for its employees meant curfew for everyone. It meant that you would not be able to leave your home or move, indefinitely,” Sanna told the Daily Dot via Twitter. She did not want to publicly share her last name due to security concerns. 

A Canadian resident with roots in Kashmir, Sanna said she visits back and forth with her family almost every year; their trip was cut short this year as the crisis unfolded.

Meanwhile, an Instagram account @withKashmir has been aggregating accounts of Kashmiris from around the world about the ongoing inability to reach family and communities on the ground.

Sanna confirmed that this is still the status in the region.

“Complete communication blackout is still in force and we have no way of knowing if our friends, family or relatives are safe, how they are doing, nothing,” she said. “No internet, no landline, no cable, nothing. No one was able to communicate with anyone unless they were directly in front of them.”

On Monday, @withKashmir called on people to change their profiles to red in solidarity with Kashmir—and people are catching on, with many raising awareness about the issue on their own platforms. 

“We are going #RedForKashmir to bring global attention to the region. As Kashmir goes under communication blackout, it becomes your duty to amplify their voices,” read a part of the description. “Red is the colour of our blood. Red is the colour of our history. Red is all of us.”

Other online platforms such as the Palestinian Youth Movement and Decolonize This Space also shared statements of solidarity:

We, the Palestinian Youth Movement, express our solidarity with the people of Kashmir as they continue to bravely resist...

Posted by ‎Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM)- حركة الشباب الفلسطيني‎ on Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Now out of the crisis zone, Sanna says she’s getting a glimpse of what the red icon is doing. 

“The red photo is clear and effective… makes people wonder why it is there, which helps them even just know something is going on,” she said, “which is worth something. Every pair of eyes counts.

“I feel like there is more coverage than I usually see surrounding Kashmir,” she added, “but… there are still too many people who think this isn’t their issue to worry about. That this is niche. But suffering and oppression isn’t niche. This is happening in the ‘biggest democracy in the world.’” 

And the online campaign is clearly making its mark. According to tweets and Instagram stories posted on @withKashmir, the account keeps getting reported and blocked.

Instagram page @standwithkashmir reported a similar issue on Tuesday.

‘This page was reported and disabled 4 times by @instagrsm users based in India,” admins said in their Instagram story. “That happened because this page is posting true human rights violations committed by the #Indian army to the international audience.”

As for Sanna, she said her point of sharing the thread was to bring to light the perspective that often remains neglected in the greater debate on Kashmir—how Kashmiris themselves feel:

“I wanted to show a glimpse of the grounded, basic difficulties that everyday Kashmiris go through because of these bigger games nation-states play,” Sanna said about sharing her thread on Twitter, which has since gone viral. “So often the Kashmir issue becomes more about India or Pakistan but I just want to put a Kashmiri perspective in the centre, for once.” 

Update 12:56pm CT, Aug. 7: Both @withkashmir and @withkashmir_ are offline.

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Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque