KARACHI: In recent times, social media has become the platform for protesters and activists to raise their voices, arrange gatherings, and spread their message which would otherwise have been very difficult given governmental controls over mainstream media through regulatory and other legal restrictions.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Kashmir’s tech-savvy youth – 70 per cent of the population is under 35 – have increasingly turned to social media to express their anger as well as to mobilise demonstrations.
This has prompted local authorities to take unprecedented steps and ban 15 social media services including Whatsapp, Facebook, and Twitter, claiming they were being misused by “anti-national and anti-social elements”.
The move followed an upsurge in violence in the region, where authorities say social media are being used to mobilise stone-throwing protesters behind increasingly frequent civilian attacks on Indian forces.
Despite the ban on social media, locals have been using virtual private networks (VPN) to circumvent the ban and access the blocked social media platforms.
But that’s not all. Kashmiri youth have also found a way to dodge authorities by launching a home-grown version of Facebook called KashBook.
KashBook, as the name suggests, is a combination of Kashmir and Facebook and was first launch by 16-year-old Zeyan Shafiq in 2013 as an app. However, he was forced to drop the project due to lack of resources.
But soon after the ban on social media in the disputed Himalayan region, Shafiq teamed up with 19-year-old computer science student Uzair Jan to launch a local version of the platform to help the community remain in touch.
“We launched KashBook to connect Kashmiri people with each other,” said Jan while talking to The Express Tribune via the platform the two teenagers created together.
On how the duo came together to launch KashBook, Jan said, “Zeyan came to me saying he has an idea for connecting people in Kashmir without using illegal methods or VPNs.”
Earlier, talking to Two Circles, Shafiq said, “The government has blocked access to all the social networks and they are blocking VPNs as well. So, when they’ll block the whole access to social media then how will people from valley stay connected with each other? KashBook is the answer to social media gag.”
Commenting on why they decided to launch the social media portal, Jan said, “This is for people of Kashmir who struggle every day to communicate with their loved ones through social media [due to the ban].”
Keeping the ‘looks’ familiar
When you go to KashBook, which has been described as ‘Kashmir’s first social networking portal’ on the app’s Google Play page, you are welcomed with a black-and-white photograph of Srinagar’s Hari Singh Street, taken sometime in the early 20th century. “We wanted to show Kashmir was beautiful during the 1900s,” Jan told HuffingtonPost India, “no killing, no war, just peace.”
Once you log in to the site, you’ll feel like you are on an older version of Facebook.
On top right corner, you have tabs for Home, Friends, Messages and Notifications along with your profile. On the left panel, just like on Facebook, you have tabs for profile, news feed, messages, and groups. Users can also upload photos, share status updates, form groups and pages, and chat with each other.
KashBook has already attracted over 6,800 members in just five days, an average of over 1,200 users joining the platform daily, claimed Jan.
But how long can KashBook remain shackle-free before the authorities clamp down on the indigenous social media platform? Only time will tell.