Call for peace via social media
By: Beena Sarwar
Karachi: The restrictive visa regime between India and Pakistan nearly stymied the ‘India’ part of the First India-Pakistan Social Media Mela in Karachi on Friday and Saturday.
Indian participants to this ground-breaking event got their visas literally a couple of hours before their flight to Karachi – minus keynote speaker Barkha Dutt of NDTV, who couldn’t make it at the last minute because of the uncertainty. Attempts to include her via Skype were largely unsuccessful due to sound and video distortions. Shivam Vij, another Indian journalist who was unable to make it to Karachi, was also on standby for Skype, but couldn’t be included.
Recounting the difficulties related to the visa issue, Sabeen Mahmud of Peaceniche, the non-profit organization behind the event, thanked the Pakistan High Commission staff in New Delhi who stayed back till 10pm to process the papers, as well as Interior Ministry Adviser Rehman Malik, who went out of his way to expedite the visas.
These contradictions – the hurdles in the way of the visas, as well as the cooperation of the Pakistan High Commission and the Interior Ministry Adviser — highlight a situation that the political establishments have the power to change, if only they would follow the people.
The slightly reduced Indian delegation arrived in Karachi to a warm reception from many they already considered friends despite having only ‘met’ online so far. Many of the Pakistani participants, too, met each other in person for the first time at the event, despite ongoing and often intense virtual friendships.
Plenary sessions addressed by the Indian participants threw up issues ranging from Yahoo Cricket blogging (Venkat Ananth) to how social media has helped transform lives in a rural school in Kashmir (Sabah Haji), ‘slacktivism’ – how online activism actually works (Raheel Khursheed of Change.org) to the disruptive effects of social media on journalism in general, and reporting, in particular (Karuna John, Tehelka.com).
A plenary session titled ‘All The World’s A Stage: The Rise of Viral Video’ focused on how artistes are turning to the Internet to release creative content and gain access to a global audience without the pressure of editors, advertisers, and corporate agendas. The well-known columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha conducted the session, featuring social satirists/musicians Ali Aftab Syed of Beghairat Brigade (‘Aloo Andey’) and Ali Gul Pir of Vital Saeen (‘Waderey ka Baita’).
Several other plenary meetings and smaller sessions brought up issues related to media and ethics, anonymity, ‘trolling’, the need for verification before sharing information, and furthering a culture of civil political discourse. The issue of India-Pakistan relations and the need for the governments to ‘follow the people to peace’ was a refrain at several sessions.
The packed first day ended with an inspiring qawwali session by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad.
The conference concludes on Saturday with more plenary sessions as well as several smaller sessions. To follow the event on twitter, check out @socmm12 and the hashtag #socmm12.