As the state police started a crackdown on the social media activists of Kashmir when five of the 35 administrators of Facebook pages identified by it as “anti-India” were summoned. A national newspaper reported that police is also monitoring a Swiss woman who has been “coordinating the activities of such administrators” in Kashmir. “Police say the woman, believed to be in her 40s, came to the Valley in 2011 and met Facebook administrators who have been uploading the allegedly “seditious” material. The police said they found her links when they intercepted her email exchanges several months ago. While police refuse to reveal her identity, they claim she converted to Islam recently. The administrators reportedly admitted meeting the Swiss woman,” reported The Indian Express on April 15, 2012.
The Kashmir Walla contacted the Swiss woman (identity withheld) and talked to her about her links with Kashmir and her reaction to the recent statements of police officials of she being involved in running the “anti-India” Facebook pages. Edited excerpts of the interview are here:
How did you come to know about Kashmir while living in Switzerland?
I grew up hearing about Vietnam, Palestine and Beirut. When Kashmir got mentioned in the news in the 90s. I was was busy bringing up my girls and had little time to do much else since I was in job too. But I do remember wondering what really was going on. Switzerland has a free press but when I look back I realize that even then the focus was on the violence rather than the story behind the fighting back. The real attention started when I made Kashmiri friends while visiting India first time, most of them were shopkeepers as usual. The rest followed naturally.
What was it that you planned to come to Kashmir?
I wanted to visit my friends made on Facebook, simply that. Staying away became too much. The year 2010 was a summer of intense emotions and strong bindings. If I could have managed it I would have come then but it just wasn’t possible due to financial reasons. I visited thrice. The first time was truly on the tourist level only. But one has to be blind to not feel the silent tension even in so-called peaceful times. I have yet to understand how holiday makers disseminate the feelings, starting at Srinagar airport. What moves is the sheer pain, the empathy, the anger, yes of course there is anger. But ultimately it’s meeting and spending time, having a cup of tea and sharing feelings that unless lived together become nearly surreal. Touching base in a nutshell.
You have many friends in your Facebook, majority of them are from Kashmir. How do you perceive their sentiments and how has Facebook helped you to know more about Kashmir?
Yes, overwhelming being the keyword. Never thought it would go this far, I joined so that I could stay in touch with friends. Have to add that most of my non-Kashmiri friends are also involved with Kashmir. Tight family of shared sentiments and ethical values. The feelings are intense, from being utterly furious and frustrated to highly creative and very deep. The entire spectrum of human emotions and expressions is condensed in a rather small space. It’s a bit like a pressure cooker, pretty much the way it feels when walking in the streets of Srinagar or travelling on a bus. It’s all there and very very real. Loud at times and the language is rather colourful. Facebook allowed me to ask to question to listen to learn. And it helped me to understand that Kashmir is an issue of many layers and needs a lot of patience. Sometimes my brain looked more like sushi than my brain. What in hindsight touches me most is that despite the huge infiltration of agents and sneaks in Facebook-Kashmir I did get answers and was allowed to keep asking. That is an honour, truly. And I shall not forget it ever.
What was the purpose of your visit in 2010-11?
I never visited in 2010. I wanted to but couldn’t. The visit in the year 2011 was to meet dear friends who have become family by now and spend time. Late 2011 was the same but I did consider moving there permanently and see if I could find employment. Hence a bit more than two months because it all takes a lot more time than say Europe, where travelling is easy and fast, organizing is a simple feat and can be planned reliably.
How did it change your perception being on the ground than online?
It didn’t change my perception as such, rather it deepened what was already palpable online. But there are things that hit home fast. For example electricity. How can it be that Kashmir produces enough for the northern grid of India and yet here we were, freezing and not knowing if and when Kerosene would reach? When water pipes seize up and there is no real idea when water will be back? The effects of black market prices and the cost of a chicken when the street is blocked for two weeks and more. The feeling of being watched and not knowing who is watching and why. The mind-games that start working on one’s mental health. The utter shock to realize that corruption touches on EVERY aspect of life. To realize that synthetic meds are handed out without the patient being able to really know what is IN the meds if you want to call them meds. Day-to-day stuff really.
There are reports about crackdown on social media activissts in Kashmir. The reports add that the state police is monitoring you for “coordinating the activities of such administrators”who run “anti-India” pages. Reportedly you have met the admins. They see you as a “foreign hand” in all this social activism. How do you react to that?
From what I understand the crackdown looks to be a financial act for the next budget of what is known as the Cyber Police Stations. The word alleged is my pet-hate-word by now. It’s been beaten to death by too many too often. My initial reaction? To be honest? I had to laugh. Admin of any pages did not and never will need a foreign woman to support them. It’s just plain silly to think that but nevermind. I had been asked yes and for a very short time was admin of a page that was eventually hacked and taken over by what we know to be a police informant. Even my own account was hacked at the time. I was asked to name the admins of Aalaw residing in Kashmir and can honestly say I have no idea nor do I want to know. Got my account back and life on Facebook for me continued the way it had been. The page I helped with was brainy and clean, would never have done anything I can’t stand by.
Will you stop the online activism for Kashmir after this?
Is your activism on the lines of Palestinian resistance movement, you are replicating the same for Kashmir?
I guess yes. But am not replicating because the situation is a bit different even though the creation of what some call Israel and the illegal occupation (I would so love to see what a court of actual law would do with all the claims India is making on Kashmir) of Kashmir happened in the same year, 1947. Insha-Allah one day both Palestine and Kashmir can visit each other freely. That IS my wish yes.
Would you involve more foreigners to be online activists for Kashmir?
Yes, I would love to. Many shy away from it due to media-madness regarding Kashmir itself and the current climate of hate-mongering against the Muslim people on this planet. It’s a thing you either go for or stay away from. Has to be with heart fully integrated. But the wheels are constantly turning and it is up to us as well to bring Kashmir closer to the rest of the world on a very human level.
What would be your rebuttal to the threats?
Good luck. Trying to invade Switzerland. The tool of fear is as old as mankind and it’s time is up.
Any words for Kashmir?
Stay strong, walk tall, question all and everything you take for truth and use those brilliant minds of yours for good work. Simply be beautiful as the land that holds you tight in it’s arms of mountains lakes and meadows. Be real be honest and know you are not alone at all. And for heaven’s sake get that garbage incinerator off the paper and into reality. It’s painful to see the land going toxic, utterly painful. Be part of the land not separate from it. When humans suffer so does nature and all who care about it can sing entire operas on the issues of massive damage for the very near future. And one more thing, be gentle with yourself, you have been through hell and came out the other side. That alone is a huge feat. Am not sure I would be sane after all of this in my life. Remember the wheel does turn, always.
Can you present a picture of you in 2010?
I was in shock. I was angry, furious and speechless. In pain. Very harsh feelings came up that I needed to digest after it “quieted down”. I met a myself that I hadn’t known before. For that I am grateful to you all. You are excellent teachers of human emotions, endurance and whit.