The author is from Kashmir. They want to remain anonymous to protect their privacy.
This is part 2 of the two-part series on surveillance in Kashmir. You can read the first part here.
Imagine a place where everyone thinks they are seen, almost all the time. Where it is commonly believed that they are being watched – watched through their devices, watched by uniformed men and women on the street, watched wherever they go.
With their lives intertwined with decades-long conflict, and personal monitoring and with public life growing day by day, it’s hard to imagine many scenarios in which it hasn’t fundamentally affected the people who live there.
Since the repeal of 370, there was a strange atmosphere of calm, accompanied by paranoia and a general mistrust among people towards each other and towards the state.
watched by men in uniforms on the ground, cameras in the streets, drones in the sky, police and vigilantes on the Internet – millions of people under constant surveillance. Wherever they go, he follows them. The establishment may get what they want out of it, but people lose what they had – safety and security, even inside their homes.
Desensitization to being watched
When the news of the Pegasus spyware broke, there was small reaction in Kashmir. People tender get used to what they encounter frequently. This familiarity develops in such a way that things that might have caused violent surprise or protest earlier become routine matters over time.
Young Kashmiris, like me, have spent their whole lives, or at least most of them, under surveillance. The idea of constant monitoring is standard for us.
At one time or another, you get used to being watched everywhere. We can see cameras, men and drones but they are so mundane to us that it doesn’t seem so alarming anymore.
What used to cause fear in people can do no more than invoke indifference in people who have already become indifferent to life in conflict.
Mistrust and paranoia
Constant and consistent mass surveillance has reduced the little trust that existed not only between the state and its citizens, but between people in their many interpersonal relationships. With a surveillance type mechanism, there is always increased apprehension among people.
the fear and uncertainty generated by surveillance inhibit activity more than any action by the authorities. People don’t need to act, arrest you, lock you up and put you in jail. If that threat is there, if you feel you’re being watched, you’re watching yourself, and that pushes people out of the public space.
In his interview at Caravan Arshad Hussain, a Kashmir-based psychiatrist, said, “This makes the individual hyper-vigilant, arouses distrust and suspicion and can lead to paranoia.
Surveillance interferes with the regulation of social interaction and self-regulation because it brings a third party to the fore. Not being able to control who has visual access to themselves or their surroundings interfere with the social and psychological basis of being human and can lead to paranoia.
For most people, the atmosphere of vigilance and control has now become a way of life.
The panoptic gaze altered personal relationships for everyone in Kashmir, with young people carefully assessing who their friends were and with whom they spoke.
For, in Kashmir, surveillance not only results in hurt feelings or alienation, but also constructs its citizens as suspects.
As everyone became a suspect, the stakes of what it meant to “trust” someone rose exponentially.
Muzammil Karim, clinical psychologist, believes increased monitoring can manifest as behavioral changes. “Surveillance can cause people to mask their true identity in day-to-day life, which affects personal and professional relationships and can cause anxiety. These people believe that any information can be used against them,” he said.
“Trusting” the wrong person has become a matter of criminality. The examples we have already seen in Kashmir, with the government citing any connections to allegedly objectionable people like grounds for termination of their job.
Under such circumstances, trust has become much more difficult to cultivate. We don’t know who we trust, who we can be friends with. You go on with your life as would be the norm, interact with people as expected, but through it all there is almost always a lingering doubt about the people around you. You think twice before saying what you want. Wherever you go, the feeling that your safety is compromised follows you everywhere. In the growing atmosphere of mistrust, safe spaces are no longer safe.
Moreover, in the recent past, the region has experienced a steep climb in the case of drug addiction, young adults including the majority users. This, accompanied by a perpetual fear in many parents that their children will be misled into insurrection.
As a result, distrust and skepticism exist among Kashmiri parents more than they might elsewhere.
The growing culture of surveillance, meanwhile, also appears to be contributing to diminished trust between the state, leaders affiliated with it, and the people of Kashmir. Recently, political leaders in the state have also complained growing mistrust. While the reasons for this are many, research suggests that in cases of constant surveillance, people tend to distrust leaders because of their relationship to the surveillance state.
We found ourselves in a position where people tend to trust rumors transmitted on WhatsApp more … than the words of their supposed leaders.
The state of mistrust spared nothing.
Many to say that the crippling space for dissent in Kashmir has been the main reason for the drastic reduction of political expression in Kashmir.
Recent actions by the state administration send a clear implicit message: two years after the repeal of Section 370, dissent will continue to be suppressed. Banning all protesters from getting government jobs, programs and passports is one more in a series of measures, including control the freedom of the media, dismissal of government employees, and a crackdown on civil rights activists.
By identifying certain forms of speech and certain types of association as suspect, people learn firsthand what forms of political, social, and cultural engagement are acceptable to the state. This does not mean that the State has the right to consider them as such. To research suggests that by individualizing them, young people do not need to be monitored, because they monitor themselves and their peers by eliminating certain forms of engagement outside the public space.
Consequently, state surveillance thwarts opportunities to develop collective critiques, perspectives, and points of view, tearing at the fabric of political mobilization, and mending is not easy.
The union government is to attempt to revive the political process in the region, but at the same time the process is underway to continue to tolerate no dissent among the Kashmiris.
Pushed to the wall
Sources describe the situation in Kashmir as a feeling of daily humiliation, sometimes petty and sometimes serious, coupled with a feeling of suffocation by a conflict with no hope of immediate improvement.
Experts have suggested that among the many reasons that push Kashmiri youth towards militancy, it could also be that in Kashmir there are fewer and fewer spaces for political expression every day. Noor A. Baba, Political Analyst, said, “In this boiling atmosphere, do not expect these educated young people to escape the realities on the ground… They are part of our society and feel suffocated and humiliated in the prevailing atmosphere and therefore the results are visible to everyone.
Surveillance has fragmented the very relationships that are essential to helping young people grow and feel connected to one another, which is the foundation of a broad and politically engaged community.
If the right to privacy is not protected, there is a loss of self-determination which results in a loss of freedom of thought, speech, association, movement and various other freedoms.
Kashmir is slowly becoming a place of total surveillance, where the dangers of surveillance are even more threatening. A world of total surveillance isn’t just science fiction – it’s reality for many. This is the world we are slowly being pushed into, with people watching in the streets, as software is coded, databases are combined, and each CCTV camera is successively added to the network and the only purpose is between people, for Look.
The opposing realms of fact and fiction seem to come together in Kashmir, with Orwellian Big Brother alive and well.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals