The government has started a crackdown on social media platforms in Kashmir as District Magistrates have asked administrators of Whatsapp groups to get themselves registered and police have been asked to monitor such groups.
The move, officials claim, is to prevent rumor-mongering. The first such order was issued by Deputy Commissioner Kupwara after five civilians were killed by army and police in the wake of protests against alleged molestation attempt of a girl by a Rashtriya Rifles soldier in the district.
This news of registration for Whatsapp groups and close monitoring of social media activity has taken people by surprise. People are asking how could there be such restrictions on web in an age when the world is moving towards increased privacy and encryption.
Soon after Kupwara killings, Deputy Commissioner Kupwara issued an order asking the administrators of Whatsapp groups to fill in forms at the District Magistrate's office. In the form, the group administrator have to provide names, mobile numbers and location of all the members of their groups.
"It is impressed upon all the Admins of Whatsapp news groups of the district to get the registration of their Whatsapp news groups in the office of undersigned within 10 days," reads the circular issued by DC Kupwara. It has a stern warning for those who don't comply and threatens action against the violators.
"Government has ordered registration of news groups, but what would constitute a news group? We have a Whatsapp group of about 25 friends through which we always remain in touch regarding our cricket matches and more such things. We regularly exchange news whenever it is relevant to our match schedule or our get-togethers and that often includes news about hartals etc. Would that also necessitate registration. This is ridiculous," said Shabir Ahmad, a budding Srinagar cricketer.
In the latest, DC Budgam has directed administrators of all social media groups that they shall be responsible for all the comments / remarks posted by the group and also for its repercussions. The Government employees working in the district have also been directed to desist from making any comment / remark on the social media groups adding that stern action will be taken against delinquent employees.
The DC has asked the district SSP and all Tehsildars to keep strict vigil on the activities of social media groups operating in the district.
In wake of Kupwara killings, the government had imposed a ban on mobile internet in Kashmir for about 4 days and Divisional Commissioner Kashmir had asked all DCs to monitor and register social media groups. Officials had claimed that the mobile internet blackout was aimed at curbing the spread of potentially inflammatory messages that could spark further tensions.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir zone, Syed Javid Mujtaba Geelani said that the move is only to prevent rumor-mongering. "Anybody who creates a Whatsapp news group has to get registered," he said adding that there will be a nodal officer in every district. "The nodal officer has to be added to group."
"Actually the Government wants to take us away from happenings around us and hence such crackdown on Internet where what constitutes a news group and what not will be decided by a cop and we have to included Tehsildars even in our friendship or family groups. See how cable news is allowed in Jammu and banned in Kashmir. They want us watch only movies and dance," said Mushtaq, a Kashmir University student.