Social media strategies of civil society peace activists
Civil society members from India and Pakistan mainly use social media platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, to mobilise actors who want peace between both countries at the time of any conflict escalation on government levels (Khalid 2016). Peace-loving people are civil society members including—but not exclusively— women, youth, academia, political leaders, children, celebrities, students, veterans and journalists from both countries (Yuvsatta n.d.). For instance, Ravi Nitesh, Indian Secretary General of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (an initiative for friendship between India and Pakistan) observed that peace advocates engage directly with war advocates on social media platforms, and they also participate in protests (Khan 2019).
Social media activism of civil society members includes creation and dissemination of Facebook pages and groups, Twitter hashtags, videos on YouTube and WhatsApp groups where activists spread the message of peace among the common people of India and Pakistan. There are several Facebook and Twitter pages and groups like “India and Pakistan Friendship Lounge”, “Youth for Human Rights Pakistan”, “Aman Ki Asha” and “Pakistan—India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy” where activists share peace messages (Bose 2019). Those messages are supported by others such as artists and actors who share their thoughts through creative anti-war artwork like posters and video messages as a form of resistance to war (Scroll Staff 2019). The following sections of the chapter examine ten different actions, strategies, impacts of activism and key lessons for activists and social media tech companies.
The first strategy of activists of both countries is to initiate a peace campaign on social media, using mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which may sensitise and mobilise the neutral public from both countries over common issues like poverty and illiteracy. For example, a Facebook page Life in Saudi Arabia shared pictures of two children, from India and Pakistan, both selling flags of their countries for independent celebrations. The page observes that the children in both countries cannot afford to attend school, and yet the countries make threats for war. This page has 3700 likes and more than 1160 shares (Life in Saudi Arabia 2019).
The intention of the second strategy is to bring the neutral public on to roads and streets to build people power in the form of demonstrations, protests, musical events and use of arts as symbols for peace and harmony in the region. For example, after the Pulwama attack and increasing conflict between Indo-Pak militaries, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, Bonded Labour Liberation Front, Women Action Forum and other actors led protests and demonstrations in Pakistan cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad cities (Bose 2019). A Delhi-based Ideal Youth Health and Welfare Society’ founded by Vijay Kuma, a trainer of Play for Peace, and a Lahore-based youth organisation Hum Sab Aik Haiti (“We are all one”) organised the internet video calling where participants performed songs and dialogue on culture and demanded that both governments replace conflict with harmony (Pakistan Today 2017). This method might be more effective if extended to other major cities of both countries.
On the other side, Indian civil society’ members organised marches and demonstrations in all the big cities of India in favour of peace with Pakistan (Euro News 2019). They used arts, poems, paintings and music to challenge the narratives of war on both sides, as a strategy for connecting youth of both countries.
In India, on March 4, 2019, following Pulwama tensions, activists including artists and students under the banner of “Citizens Against War” (The Indian Express 2019b) came on to the street together to march for peace between India and Pakistan. The activists formed a human chain and marched from Jantar Man- tar to the Indian Parliament in New Delhi (Euro News 2019).
In Pakistan, youth activists organised a peace walk in Peshawar city of northwest Pakistan with the collaboration of “We Are One”, an online volunteer initiative by two youths, one from Kolkata city in India and the other one from Peshawar city in Pakistan. This initiative aimed to increase contact through social media (WhatsApp, Faccbook and Twitter) between young people of both countries. The activists, mostly college and university students, held a walk on the road, carrying posters with the message “Pray for peace, act for peace” to show their concern over increased tensions after the Pulwama attack (We are one 2019).
The locally led approaches of activists for peace could be an important strategy to engage ordinary people through peace messages. This strategy particularly works well if employed in local languages to make the message of tolerance, love and peace inclusive. For example, in July 2019, Syed Ali Hameed, an peace activist and founder of Sbaoor (“Awareness”) Foundation Islamabad, started a Peace Rickshaws campaign in various cities of Pakistan such as Bahawalpur, Hyderabad, Gujrat, Mardan, Peshawar and Sukkur to counter the narratives of war and hatred in Pakistan (Hameed 2019). The messages of love and peace are painted and inscribed on rickshaws in Pakistan’s national language Urdu and regional languages like Pashto, Saraiki and Sindhi. Some of those messages in Urdu are:
- (End disputes, embrace with love) ^-1 ^
- (Reduce distance, spread peace) ^>11
- (From morning to evening, speak for peace) ^ 1)£ s£ y-3 S
The goal of these types of messages on rickshaws is to change how people think about peace and violence. The same is true for civil society peace advocacy on social media whereby neutral public is exposed to online peace messages in their local languages. This exposure could change attitude of the social media users towards peace and violence.