Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

Indian authorities continue to ban in Kashmir popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

  • Police say Internet users misuse social media ‘to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities’
  • Ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remains in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have registered a case against unidentified Internet users who employed virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent a social media ban in the disputed region, police said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop their use.
Police said they misused social media “to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities.”
“Hundreds of suspected misusers have been identified and are being probed,” said Tahir Ashraf, who heads the police cyber division in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police said in a statement Monday that they have seized “a lot of incriminating material,” adding that the accused could be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which also allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists.”
Police officials questioned several users about their social media posts. However, no formal arrests have been made.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs.
Kashmiris are evading censorship of the Internet and social media by using VPNs, which are widely used globally to access restricted websites, after authorities in January allowed the restive region’s 7 million people to access government-approved websites, six months after cutting off the Internet entirely.
In August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood and imposed a total communications blackout. Authorities heralded the recent restoration of limited Internet access as a step toward normalcy, but are continuing a ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Police officer Ashraf said “misuse of social media has caused widespread disinformation and fake news.” It was unclear whether authorities would clamp down on general social media users over the ban on use of social media sites.
Since the Internet ban was partially lifted on Jan. 25, some Kashmiris have shared access to banned sites through VPNs and taken to the web to denounce the government’s actions in the region.
Critics say the tight Internet restrictions are “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world” and could spearhead a new level of government control over information allowing it to further restrict freedoms in Kashmir.
“Everything is policed here. There’s no privacy in our lives,” said Ikram Ahmed, a university student. “Now we will have people in jails for mere use of social media.”
The portion of the divided Kashmir region that India controls is one of the most militarized places in the world.
Kashmiri rebels have fought for decades for its independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, both claiming it in its entirety.


Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

Updated 07 July 2020

Out of work marriage registrars wait for couples to say ‘I do’ in Bangladesh

  • Lockdown restrictions mean more people opt for virtual weddings

DHAKA: There were days when Khalilur Rahman Sardar would struggle to take a lunch break during office hours.

As one of Bangladesh’s 7,500 registrars officiating marriages in the country, his days were busy and diary always full.

However, after the government imposed social distancing restrictions in March to limit the spread of coronavirus in the country, the number of couples getting married in person fell drastically as well. Dhaka-based Sardar told Arab News on Monday that he’s been rendered jobless by the pandemic.

“Usually, I register around 20-40 marriages per month. But I have registered only two marriages in June. If the pandemic continues for an indefinite period, I don’t know how we will survive,” said Sardar, who is the president of the Bangladesh Muslim Marriage Registrar Association (BMRA).

With strict restrictions on movement, he said that a majority of couples, especially those residing in different cities, were choosing to get married online, resulting in a “total disaster” for most registrars.

Whereas earlier couples could walk into a marriage registrar’s office to legalise their wedding, nowadays the registrar receives a power of attorney from either the bride or groom to sign on their behalf in the registration book and make the wedding official.

In some cases, the bride or groom sends a signed and scanned copy of a “promise note” as a document of surety for the registrar. In addition to this, the registrar also enlists a guardian to send a video recording of the virtual ceremony for further proof. 

According to law, marriage registrars receive a 12.5 percent commission of the total amount of “Den Mohor,” the money pledged by the groom to his bride as part of a necessary process in a Muslim marriage.

Registrars bear all their office expenses from these earnings.

However, with no source of income due to couples opting for virtual weddings, the BMRA has appealed to the government to grant them a stimulus package or some financial relief.

“We also need to survive, just like other professionals in society. But in a situation with almost no work, how can we do that?” asked Iqbal Hossain, secretary-general of the BMRA.

“Our work volume is down to 5 percent of the normal workload. It’s become a question of our very existence and if it goes like this, many of our colleagues will be forced to switch the profession,” Hossain said.

However, virtual marriages have brought relief for some couples.

“Our marriage ceremony was scheduled to take place in the last week of May. But the COVID-19 pandemic compelled us to postpone all the ceremonies, and it was just a virtual marriage,” said Nusrat D., a resident of Dhaka’s Bangshal area.

She said that since her husband lives in Europe and couldn’t visit Bangladesh due to the international travel ban, they had no option but to exchange vows online.

Wedding planners in Dhaka are making optimum use of the lockdown restrictions, providing tailored packages for virtual marriages.

With charges ranging from $100 to $200, the packages include the services of a marriage registrar, a live musical show which is streamed online and an option to connect a guest list of up to 1,000 people.

“In the past month, I organised a virtual marriage where the groom was in Chottogram, and the bride was in the United Kingdom. I have four to five more clients who have signed up for the package,” said Labib Mohammad, chief executive of Selvice, an event management firm.