Dear Indians, Our WhatsApp Hysteria is Not Going to Resolve the India-Pakistan Tensions


Dear Indians, Our WhatsApp Hysteria is Not Going to Resolve the India-Pakistan Tensions

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Twelve days after the Pulwama attack, India launched air strikes inside Pakistan and claimed to destroy a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot. In an era where information came to us via newspapers or radio, it would have taken an entire day, or at least a few hours before India’s civilian population learnt about the “pre-emptive non-military action”. But conflicts in the times of social media are different – they unfold in real time on our phones.

By the time I boarded my daily local in the morning, the air strike was the subject of discussion in the coach. Everyone knew about it and everyone turned into a defence analyst, ready with an  expert view for any news channel that wanted to give them the time of day. Some were following Twitter accounts, others streaming live news and those who had been feeding on hyper-nationalist videos and texts since the February 14 Pulwama attack were plotting a full-fledged war and how it would end.  

Everyone had some “expert opinion” on what India should do next; after all there was no dearth of information, most of it far from legit, that was coming our way in the form of Facebook posts, tweets, doctored videos, shayari, and memes. In all of these, there was no dearth of suggestions for the Indian armed forces. I can’t shake off the feeling that the Indo-Pak conflict could’ve been solved long back, if army generals and diplomats had India’s WhatsApp uncles and aunties for advisors.

But how exactly does someone sitting in their air-conditioned homes and offices really prepare for a conflict?

The “WhatsApp war”, including open appeals to the PM to attack Pakistan, started unfolding immediately after the Pulwama attack, promising him a mandate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. A neighbour received the following message a few days ago, “Lakhon sar jhuk jayenge Modi tere saamne, bas ek baar Gujarat wala jalwa dekha de Pakistan mein. Vande Mataram.”

“India has more tanks than Pakistan.” “We can destroy their nuclear site before they even realise it.” “When have we lost anything to Pakistan, not in cricket not in war.” “Oh! Pakistani F-16s are faulty.” “We should kill Masood Azhar, the way US killed Osama in the Abbottabad raid.”

WhatsApp and social media have turned war into a dinner-table conversation; those who were discussing Bigg Boss until yesterday are discussing bombing and combat strategy today. Families casually discuss whether India should use nuclear weapons against Pakistan, as if they’re swatting flies. On the internet, tensions between the two nations has become fodder for memes, as the #PKMKB movement takes center stage on Indian dank meme pages. The spike in fake WhatsApps has left even experts worried. Tushar Barot, who is in-charge of Facebook India’s initiative to counter fake news, tweeted after videos from Syria and Iraq started going viral following the killing of CRPF jawans, “I’ve never seen anything like this before – the scale of fake content circulating on one story.”

A video of a regular truck carrying goods is being shared as “action missles being deployed in Mumbai”. Footage from a video game is being considered as “proof” of the surgical strikes and videos from Syria and other conflict-torn nations over the past decades are passed on as current operations. Images of an old crashed air force jet from Odisha are being peddled as the IAF jet struck down by Pakistan.

Perhaps the most potent example of this is the number of casualties being bandied about. Within a few hours of Tuesday’s air strikes, messages started circulating on how 300 people had been killed after India dropped 1,000 kg bombs on a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp and terrorist Yousuf Azhar had been eliminated. How then did we arrive at the numbers? WhatsApp worshippers don’t really care. All they want is to “finish” Pakistan.

Now that there is enough panic created and we are in a “war” with the neighbours, it’s better to be prepared. But how exactly does someone sitting in their air-conditioned homes and offices really prepare for a conflict? The WhatsApp machinery is already in action. Here’s a to-do list:

Advisory alert
– Keep ur vehicle petrol tanks full
– Keep house hold n essentials for atleast a month
– Keep stock of medicines needed at home.
– Don’t forget baby foods.
– Help each other during hr of need.
– Wars never come announcing, they happen
– Stay calm but alert
– Remain vigilant, almost all wars start during night.
– Keep cash at home.
– In case of war, never forget it can turn into nuclear one, b prepared.

But how exactly do you prepare for a nuclear war, you may ask? Worry not, the WhatsApp Ministry is preparing an advisory as we speak.