Not only has social media become an important and integral part of our lives, it has also become a true reflection of popular sentiments and views. In our #YearInReview series we bring to you a journey through 2016 by taking a look at the hashtags that trended and the events that shaped Indian life.
New Year celebrations in India were soon replaced by shock and grief when a group of armed terrorists attacked a Western Air Command air base of the Indian Air Force in Pathankot. The 2 January, 2016 attack left seven security personnel and one civilian dead and 20 others injured. The three terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a radical Islamist militant group based in Pakistan, were also killed. The dogged refusal of Pakistan to acknowledge any evidence related to the attack led to a breakdown of Indo-Pak relations. #Pathankot #IAF and #AgainstTerror also trended in social media at the time.
In March-April 2016, cricket frenzy took over India and social media with India hosting the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 championship. Despite its excellent performance, India could only make it to the semifinals. The finals were held at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and #ViratKohli bagged the player of the tournament award bringing much pride to his fans.
Another unexpected development in the country that elicited strong reactions from social media was the #JNURow or the #JNUProtests. In early February, 2016, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) held a protest march criticising the Supreme Court’s decision to hang Afzal Guru (2001 Parliament attack mastermind). The students were reported to have raised #antinational slogans and JNU Students Union president #KanhaiyaKumar was arrested on #sedition charges. Student protests against government #intolerance and media reactions combined with demands to #ShutdownJNU dominated the news.
On July 8, 2016, Indian security forces embarked on what they thought would be a routine operation against militant forces. Three militants were killed and it later came to light that one of them was Burhan Wani, a terrorist well known for his active life on social media and for recruiting many militants in the state of Jammu and #Kashmir. Wani’s death was blown out of proportion by some media houses and Wani’s supporters attended his funeral in great numbers. Protests were staged against the #IndianArmy in the state and many were killed in ensuing clashes.
The protests that broke out after Burhan Wani’s death soon spiralled out of control. Stone pelting against the armed forces became routine and over 4,000 security personnel were injured. #Curfew was imposed to curb the #KashmirProtests but large scale unrest ensued. Jammu and Kashmir Police and paramilitary forces resorted to the use of pellet guns, which in turn injured numerous civilians. Around 85 civilian deaths and 13,000 injuries were reported. The protests commenced in July and went on for several weeks plunging the state into a dark phase of political and civil unrest.
One of the major events that was held this year was the summer Olympic Games at Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. India’s expectations were high and the contingent a large one. As the games progressed, there were three women athletes who stood out and made the nation proud. #PVSindhu became the country’s first woman to win an Olympic silver medal and claimed the second spot at the women’s singles badminton event. Her attempt was a valiant one and triggered the hashtag #SindhuForGold. #SakshiMalik won the bronze medal in the 58 kg women’s freestyle wrestling event. #DipaKarmakar, India’s champion gymnast outdid many with her exemplary performance and narrowly missed the bronze. Along with the paralympians who brought home medals, these women made India and Indians proud.
In August 2016, Irom Sharmila, popularly known as the ‘Iron Woman of Manipur’ took a dab of honey to end a 16 year long fast. She started her fast in protest of the implementation of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in her state. Sharmila had embarked on a fast in November 2000, following the killing of 10 civilians by Assam Rifles security forces. Not only did Irom Sharmila give up her long fast, she also announced her intention to run for a seat in the upcoming Manipur State Assembly Elections and to get married.
Jammu and Kashmir had been in a state of unrest following the large scale protests following the death of terrorist Burhan Wani. Memories of the Pathankot attack were festering as raw wounds when another attack on the armed forces jolted India. In the early hours of 18 September, 2016, four heavily armed terrorists carried out an attack on the #IndianArmy brigade headquarters in Uri in Kashmir. About 17 #Army soldiers were killed and about 30 injured in the gunfight that followed. Social media outrage reflected the grief and horror of Indians from across the country.
The attack on Uri had crossed the fine line of tolerance that India has been exercising for decades. On the night of September 28, 2016, the Indian Army conducted #surgicalstrikes across the Line of Control (L-o-C) in Jammu and Kashmir. Around seven terrorist bases located in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir were destroyed and 38 terrorists killed. Two Pakistani soldiers who came to the aid of the terrorists were also killed. #UriAvenged was a trending hashtag on social media sites. Anti-Pakistan sentiments ran high and the call to severe all cultural exchanges with our neighbour triggered a #SayNoToPakArtists wave.
Another important event that stirred up the nation, both online and offline was the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes by the government of India. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi attracted great appreciation for the bold move, the implementation was severely criticized. The move forced many to go #cashless and to use digital payment methods. The lack of liquidity has caused the common man much anguish despite the surgical strike on #blackmoney.
The one Indian leader who seems to have been a social media hit this year is the Minister for External Affairs #SushmaSwaraj. Her scathing address at the #UNGeneralAssembly exposing Pakistan’s terror links and lies received much adulation. Swaraj also helped out numerous Indians who approached her on the micro-blogging site Twitter, gaining her a great fan following. Towards the end of the year, however, her health issues became the talk of Twitter.