Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Kashmiris and High-Speed Internet: A Tragic Love Story

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Vaishnavi Krishna Mohan

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Kashmiris and High-Speed Internet: A Tragic Love Story

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Global Views 360

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January 6, 2021

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People Protesting in Kashmir | Source: Countercurrents

Over sixteen months have passed since the India’s government imposed a ban on high-speed mobile data services in Jammu and Kashmir with the exception of two districts—Ganderbal and Udhampur. This ban has been extended. On 25th December, an order was issued by J&K administration stating that the ban has been extended till Jan 8, 2021. On August 5th, 2019, the central government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A and mobile internet services were temporarily suspended due to security reasons. However, the suspension of high-speed mobile data services is not seeing an end. This has taken a toll on several businesses and students especially during the pandemic.

Iqra Ahmed—a fashion designer—took over four years to build her fashion brand online. Her clothing brand, Tuv Palav had a great recognition online through social media where Iqra had over 50,000 followers. She used Instagram to promote Kashmiri clothing. In August 2019, when the government revoked the erstwhile state’s constitutional autonomy, the valley saw a communication blackout and Iqra lost a large portion of her customer base. About 5 months later, 2G internet was partially restored, that is in Jan 2020 but social media services like Instagram were still inaccessible.

Iqra Ahmed, fashion designer from Kashmir | Source: Gyawun

In desperation, Iqra and many others like her opted to use Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

VPN allows users to hide their location while browsing the web, effectively helping in circumventing the ban. Kashmir saw a sudden surge of interest in VPN applications a few months after the ban.

According to several residents of Kashmir, the use of VPNs created a tension between civilians and the army. In several regions of South Kashmir, Army personnel allegedly checked the phones of youth for VPN apps. If any such apps were found, the youth were either thrashed or their phones were seized and they were bullied and harassed to collect it from the army camps.

“I was traveling to Shopian (district in J&K) when our cab was stopped at a checkpoint. The army man asked the guy sitting beside me how many VPNs he has on his phone. The guy replied none. ‘You better not have VPNs, otherwise, you know what we will do,’” Shefali Rafiq, a local girl, narrated her experience on Twitter. Using VPN was not a choice made for entertainment but one that was made out of desperation. Several people hadn’t seen the faces of their sons, daughters, parents, siblings and other family members living away from Jammu and Kashmir in months.

For instance, 61-year-old Shameema Banoo hadn’t seen her younger son in over 6 months. Parray, her younger son works at Riyadh, Saudhi Arabia as a hotel manager. “Last time on the evening of August 4th, I saw him through a video call. It was only after six months, on 5th of February, that my elder son brought a VPN application in his phone, by which I got connected with my beloved son,” said Shameema with tears and a smile.

However, several Kashmiris were unaware about the security issues that come with free VPNs. Hackers have breached the bank accounts of several people across the valley. In some cases, when users used VPNs for e-banking, hackers have also managed to withdraw their money. Surfshark, a UK based VPN company conducted a research on free VPNs which revealed that these VPNs can potentially jeopardize more than just user browsing history. Free VPNs build a profitable business model by selling user information to bidders which includes government agencies or authorities. In some cases, third parties were directly allowed to access user information. On the grounds of their study, Surfshark stated that free VPN service providers were culprits of user data abuse.

The people of Kashmir seemed to be unaware of these issues. People who travelled outside Kashmir, came back with seven to eight VPNs as backups as authorities were blocking and barring VPNs every day. The government also cracked down VPN users by filing an open FIR under which over hundreds of suspected users were probed and arrested several for allegedly misusing social media to promote “unlawful activities and secessionist ideology.”

On 4th March 2020, use of social media was legalized in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiris didn’t forget about those who supported them during the times of restriction. Kashmiris have developed a strange love for VPN developers past the customs of law. They showed their hospitality and gratitude to all VPN developers. Among several VPNs, LetsVPN was widely used. Kashmiris expressed their kindness by sending chai samovar, a bundle of kangris sonn sund pond (golden coin), besrakh tooker (a basket of sweets) and other gifts to the Canadian based creator of LetsVPN. These are the items that are usually sent by the bride’s family to the to-be in laws as a token of respect.

Another user shared on twitter that the experience of using VPN applications was similar to the Islam holy month of Ramzan, at first, a little hardship is endured but as the days go by, one gets used to it and after the month is over, it is missed badly and dearly.

However, Kashmiris haven’t met their happy endings yet. The ban of high speed mobile data is taking a toll on students. Several students have missed an entire online semester and were even unable to take their exams. Several students wrote to the union education minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal voicing their concerns about the apathy that universities all over India expressed toward the students of Kashmir.

Rashida Bashir, a 20-year-old sociology student from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi said that she and some of her friends were not able to join classes using 2G. “How can we appear in the online examination without any issues?” she questioned. She expressed that JMI asked the students to ensure high-speed, uninterrupted internet connectivity and also that owning a laptop was considered a necessity. She further stated that the students were asked to ensure that they have uninterrupted electricity while taking the exams. She mentioned that everybody did not own a laptop or WiFi connection and she mentioned that Handwara, North Kashmir, her place of residence experienced frequent power cuts.                                                                                  

“My classmates are privileged as the internet comes easy for them. But I have to go through a lot of issues and I’m suffering” said Masoodi. Durdana Masoodi, a student from Miranda House, Delhi said that she reached out to one of her professors for help who understood her problem and agreed to send her the lecture notes. However, that did not resolve the problem. It isn’t easy to download notes on the internet either. Anything over file size one-megabyte would take over an hour to download.

Many students, especially girls in Kashmir dropped out after 10th and 12th grade due to the pandemic which coincided with ban of high-speed internet. Students from Kashmir urged their schools and universities to scrap the autocratic decision to conduct online proctored examinations. They requested the union education minister and universities to consider their situation and sought help to resolve this issue.

It is important to deploy high level of security measures in J&K due to long standing issues with Pakistan and current impasse with China. However, the government must also consider the fact that education of students, careers of many, and livelihood of the people during this pandemic is at stake due to the ban on high speed internet. It should also understand that throttling the internet in J&K, instead of strengthening security, may prove to be more of a security threat by further alienating the people who are adversely impacted by it.

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January 17, 2021 12:28 PM

Storming of the Capitol Hill and the Anatomy of Trumpism

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters marched towards the Capitol Hill and stormed the building after outgoing President Donald Trump allegedly incited the crowd during his speech. It is also being called one of the worst security breaches in American history.

One of the often-cited reason for the insurrection is the idea of “Trumpism.” Therefore, this article explores what happened at the Capitol Hill in light of the idea of Trumpism.

What happened that led to the storming of the US Capitol?

Prior to the storming, the protesters assembled on the South Lawn for the 'Save America March'  where President Trump, his lawyer and advisor Rudy Giuliani, and others gave speeches. There,  Giuliani called the election results “crooked” and Trump, who gave the speech behind a glass barrier, declared that he would “never concede”, criticised the media by calling it “fake” and “biased”, and wrongly claimed that the Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the election results. He also went on to tell the crowd to “fight like hell”.

Storming at Capitol Hill | Source: Tyler Merbler via Flickr

After the rally, the crowd of supporters instigated by Trump marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol Hill and breached security, occupying parts of the building for several hours. They did this in an effort to disrupt the electoral college vote count during a joint session of the Congress and prevent the formalization of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. They ransacked and vandalised several parts of the building including the senate chamber and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They allegedly wanted to “hang” Vice President Mike Pence and also chanted the slogan “Where is Pence?” The vice president had been whisked to a secure location in the Capitol complex. Apart from that, they were chanting the slogans “stop the steal” and “USA,USA”, among others.

The rioters left the Capitol Hill after hours of looting and riots. It led to 5 deaths, out of which one was a police officer. After the rioting was over, the senate continued its session and declared Biden as the President. It also concluded that there was no voter fraud. There have been many arrests since then and police is still searching for more.


Why do Trump’s supporters believe him?

A supporter of Donald Trump | Source: Lorie Shaull via Flickr

They believe in something which is nowadays termed ‘Trumpism'. Trumpism is a term for the political ideology, type of governance, political movement and set of mechanisms for acquiring and keeping power that are associated with the 45th United States president, Donald Trump and his political base. It is a kind of American politics that is right wing to far-right, and has nationalist sentiments. His ideologies are also believed to be illiberal and close to fascism. Trump also claimed once, in 2016, that he could shoot someone standing in the Fifth Avenue, and his supporters wouldn’t abandon him.

Trump has managed to establish an emotional connection with his supporters, which consists of around 40% of the Americans. An article by Timothy Pytell on Psychology Today pointed out that it is a narcissistic identification with Trump that leads his supporters to follow him. By openly claiming he can do whatever he wants to, shoot anyone and still retain support, or grab women without their consent, he has tapped into the unconscious desires and thoughts of millions of Americans. His vulgarity, indecency, and law-breaking leads his followers into a narcissistic identification – as if they are Trump. Even though Trump may have to leave the White House, he will have the spotlight and Trumpism will not fade away from politics. This is the reason why the protestors believed in the “stop the steal” slogan.

Whenever Trump says “ I’m suffering for you” or shows as if he’s doing everything for America, his followers begin to see him as a true leader and it consolidates belief. Another thing is Trump considers himself God-like, and therefore religious groups and other people start connecting him to religion. They start believing even in his blatant lies.

Another reason that strengthened the Trump ideology are pro-right wing TV Channels like Fox news. They turn everything that Trump did into something “great”. Such channels are able to support the movement on a deeper level by brainwashing the audience.

The way he speaks, behaves and acts – makes such people relate with him so much that they start believing in him. There’s more about feelings, emotions and “dreampolitik realm” in Trumpism rather than economics and policies. The supporters were literally devoted to Trump. And if someone is not believing in his dangerous ideas, such as the liberals, Democrats, and especially some of the Republicans who went against Trump, they have either been termed “weak” or “losers” and in some cases, even traitors. An example of this is - "Where are Republicans! Have some backbone," Eric Trump tweeted in November during the elections. "Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!" Clearly he wanted to convey that the people who are not fighting lack “backbone” and are somewhat like a coward. Such things instigated people in the name of bravery and nationalism.

Many of his supporters and base includes White supremacists, including the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist hate group whose primary targets are African Americans. Its lesser enemies include Jews, immigrants, leftists, homosexuals, Muslims and, until recently, Catholics. Other than the above mentioned his main supporters include people from the rural areas, the middle states, white evangelists, and those into blue collar jobs or without college degrees. There’s a small population of non-white as well.

The riots proved that although the President has been defeated in the elections, his Trumpism remains deep-rooted, and will outlast him. “The work of undoing the siren call of Trumpism will require, to begin, a deeper understanding of its appeal”, Jeff Goodwin, an New York University Professor of Sociology and expert on movement politics, told CNN. He added, “A large part of Trumpism's appeal is Trump's personal appeal to a lot of people -- as a celebrity, as a crass speaker of truth, as these people see him, someone who doesn't mince words, someone who really tells it like it is. He's figured things out, he's a billionaire and he knows how the system works. All these elements of Trump's personality and character seem to have a lot of appeal to a big segment of the population. But I don't know if there is Trumpism without Trump.” He describes Trumpism as a “contradictory, unstable amalgam” of five key ideological pieces – Social conservatism (anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies), Neoliberal capitalism (tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation), Economic nationalism, Nativism (anti-immigration policies), and white nationalism (refusal to condemn Proud Boys and others).

Aftermath and Reactions on the Capitol Insurrection

People commented and condemned the incident, not only in America but from all over the world. “This is what the president has caused today, this insurrection,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney told a reporter. But the President himself didn’t condemn the rioters. Instead, he released a video message, telling his supporters to “go home and go home in peace” and said, “We love you; you’re very special.” He further went on with his false claims that the elections were “stolen”. In fact, in his speech which incited these people, Trump said he would join them and march together towards the Capitol, which he certainly didn’t do and went back to the White House, because most probably he didn’t want the dirt on him. He later tweeted telling the protestors to “stay peaceful”, but did not condemn or tell them to return back.

Reacting to President Trump’s irresponsible behaviour, Facebook locked Trump's accounts and removed posts related to the incident, Twitter locked his account for 12 hours, and then permanently suspended it.

Even the police was criticised for its role in the protests. In several footages, police officials can be seen bringing in the protestors and even clicking selfies with them. They were criticised for their biased attitude towards the riot and the leniency shown towards it as compared to the Black Lives Matter movement, that was comparatively peaceful. Several leaders, including President-elect Joe Biden have pointed out this racism which is visible in the difference between the handling of both the movements by the police.

The flags, signs, and other damaged items, including Nancy Pelosi’s broken name plate, will be preserved as historical artefacts in the House and Senate collections and shared with national museums.

It has also been called a coup d’état, and was a possible attempt to overturn the decision in a forceful manner, which certainly was undemocratic. Several leaders from countries around the world including France, China, Australia, Germany India, Israel, and the UK reacted to the incident and condemned it. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “disgraceful” while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani went on to blame the system itself and tweeted “What we saw last night and today in America firstly proved what a failure the Western democracy is and how fragile and weak its foundation is,” he said.

Democrats have introduced an article of impeachment against US President Donald Trump for his role in the deadly invasion of the Capitol. The article accuses M.r Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, "The president represents an imminent threat to our constitution, our country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately," Calls for Mr Trump's resignation, removal from office or impeachment have grown among Democrats and some Republicans in the days following the riots in Congress in which five people died. No US president has ever been impeached twice. However, it’s unlikely that Trump will be successfully impeached, because of his broad Republican support in the Senate.

Trump has said he is ready for a transition, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn-in as the 46th President on January 20th. But he added he will not attend the swearing-in ceremony.

In the last four years, the liberals, Democrats, the left and all Trump’s critics were accused of hysteria and hyperbole for calling his movements fascist, authoritarian and lawless. But now, the scenario seems to validate their claims showing how the Trump movement really proved to be a threat to the US as well as to the idea of democracy.

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