Nearly three weeks after the Jammu and Kashmir government imposed a ban on 22 social media websites including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp in the Kashmir valley, two teenagers have developed a Facebook-like social media network to connect the locals.
KashBook, a combination of Kashmir and Facebook, was first developed by 16-year-old Zeyan Shafiq in 2013, but he decided to improve and relaunch it with his friend, 19-year-old Uzair Jan, this month after the recent ban on social media. While Jan worked on the website, Shafiq developed the Android app.
"We thought there is a lot of creativity in Kashmiri girls and boys. Why don't we put that big idea to make something new? We didn't know it would go viral," Jan, a computer science student at a Chandigarh college, told HuffPost India. "Then I saw several TV channels reporting on it."
Shafiq, who just passed his Class X exams, first met Jan on Facebook in 2013. "We are both hackers and geeks and so he asked me to help him make the website," Jan said. It took them a week to rework and relaunch the website.
Since the social media ban, locals have been using virtual private network (VPN) to circumvent the ban and access the blocked social media platforms. However, KashBook can be accessed without VPN.
"The government has blocked access to all the social networks and they are blocking VPNs too. So, when they'll block the whole access to social media then how will people from valley stay connected with each other? KashBook is the answer to social media gag," Shafiq told Two Circles.
Jan added that a lot of people who don't know about VPN are joining the website.
The login page of KashBook starts with a black-and-white photograph of Srinagar's Hari Singh Street, taken sometime in the early 20th century. "We wanted to show Kashmir was beautiful during the 1900s," Jan said, "no killing, no war, just peace." The app page on the Google Play Store calls it Kashmir's first social networking portal, "made with <3 in Kashmir" and by Kashmir".
The resulting media attention has also brought more members to KashBook. According to Jan, KashBook has already attracted over 4,600 members in just four days since its launch. "We even have people from Mumbai, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu joining us," Jan said.
However, their servers are having trouble coping with the sudden increase in users, as a result of which the website runs very slowly. For now, the two are busy with studies and plan to work on the website again in June.
The design and features of KashBook are clearly inspired by Facebook. Users can upload photos, share status updates, form groups and pages, and chat with each other. The website also gives users the option to communicate in Kashmiri.
Despite the media spotlight on KashBook, Jan is careful about what role it might play in the political situation in that state. The two founders have now recruited a series of moderators to work on removing "anti-national posts".
"We don't whether tomorrow we will be put in jail or get in trouble because of KashBook," Jan said. "I have deleted my Facebook and WhatsApp accounts. I haven't provided any photographs. We don't know what impact it will have on the police and the state government. ."
Also on HuffPost