Social media helps connect divided families in Kashmir

Social media helps connect divided families in Kashmir

Compared to other confidence building measures, social media has played a vital role in bridging the divides created by the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, helping overcome communication gaps and promoting the concept of a healing nation.

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By Raja Wasim and Mazhar Iqbal

With globalization having reduced cultural differences and distances between countries, people across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir are enforced to live in a heart-rending situation. Traditionally, they exchange smiles, wave to each other and read hidden messages of love and affection every day, but are not allowed to speak to those with whom they communicate. This is a unique form of communication.  Old friends, neighbours and close relatives are bound to put a seal on their lips and not to interact with each other. Their faces speak volumes about their helplessness.

After over 60 years of forced partition, sadness and sorrow still dominates the atmosphere in Kashmir. Nonetheless, restrictions on common ways to communicate have not derailed people’s resolution and commitment. A sizeable number of people in Jammu and Kashmir have lost contact with their loved ones in other parts of the divided state due to restrictions on internationally-accepted channels of communication and postal facilities.

The confidence building measures (CBMs) that were initiated a few years ago have, so far, proved to be a futile exercise. When initiated, it was a ray of hope for those wishing to travel across the border and meet with their relatives. The people on both sides had expectations of renewing contacts with their lost family members and relatives. Over the years, thousands have applied to travel via bus service, initiated under the CBMs, but due to complicated process involving several security checks, only a few among them had been successful in getting travel documents to  travel.

The initiation of a bus service between two parts of the divided state was the first ever people-to-people contact in the beleaguered history of Kashmir conflict. Kashmiris who travelled across the LoC had found their relatives, friends and colleagues after a long passage of time and had expressed a hope to keep their contacts alive. There is no doubt that such CBMs have boosted contacts amongst divided families, particularly those who had migrated at different occasions after confrontations between the armies of two countries.

It is, however, worthwhile to note that the majority of people who were allowed to travel across the border in Jammu and Kashmir, belonged to almost all parts of the state.

Living a life in such an oppressive condition and keeping memories away is perhaps one of the hardest things one can struggle to do. When it is one’s cherished hope to make contacts with somebody who is very close to their heart and finding no way to communicate, one cannot but stop thinking pessimistically. The dawn of internet era in Kashmir, however, has brought relief to peoples’ lives. Now, they can see and talk to each other by using social media.

The people, who find it extremely difficult to make a phone call or speak to each other are now making contacts with their parents, siblings and other relations. Enjoying each other’s video, sharing pictures and sending emails are a routine now. This communication revolution has come as a blessing for them to connect with their divided families.

A  Kashmiri migrant, Farooq, who migrated in the nineties from Srinagar to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, couldn’t stop his tears when recounting his memories. “I saw my brother after 14 years.  We both have spent all these years crying and desperately waiting to see each other. When my brother spoke to me after such a long time, he said, he had no other wish but to hug me once in his life.”

Almost every individual with family living on the other side of the divided state now has regular contact. They are well aware of their circumstances and continue to making such contacts on a regular basis. Although people from both sides of the LoC need many other things to minimize their suffering , they are really benefiting from a social media boom. They are enjoying sharing the details of life; their personal moments of happiness and sorrow.

During the recent floods in Srinagar, Muzaffarabad-based people have been regularly following social media updates, including the latest pictures and videos from their loved ones who live in Indian Kashmir.  In Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, where a weakened civil society is unable to play an effective role in nursing the conflict-affected people, social media has become a healer to connect them with each other. People are now better connected across the communities and are sharing information about their business, work and matters of routine.

Social media is bridging communication gaps and promoting the concept of a healing nation. Abdul Hakeem, a journalist, described that during the recent floods in Srinagar he has been in touch with many of his friends in Indian Kashmir. There are many combined groups of youth and students who are working without any proper initiative to share meaningful things. On Facebook we regularly receive requests from people who migrated from Muzaffarabad in 1947 requesting information about their birthplace.

There are several pages dedicated to Kashmir affairs on social media platforms from both sides, highlighting social, cultural, political and economic activities. People are now enjoying opportunities to make new friends through social media. As compared to other CBMs in Jammu and Kashmir, social media is playing a vital role in the backdrop of a conflict situation and it needs to be recognized.

Raja Wasim is Director of Press For Peace (PFP), a rights advocacy organisation working in Jammu and Kashmir. Mazhar Iqbal is a peace and human rights activist and member of Press for Peace.

Press For Peace is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, comprised of organizations committed to upholding and implementing the Principles of Conflict Transformation.

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12 Responses

  1. edward Adikwuru

    I have no doubt that Social Media is a vital tool and critical factor in peace building process especially when it is constructively harnessed.

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