India

India student refuses to be 'anti-Pakistan' poster girl

The original tweet by Kawalpreet Kaur Image copyright Kawalpreet Kaur
Image caption The original photo, posted by Kawalpreet Kaur in June

The Twitter account of an unofficial Pakistani defence blog is suspended after it doctored an image of an Indian student to portray her as someone who hated her country. Indian media swiftly hailed it as a "victory" against Pakistani propaganda, but the student, Kawalpreet Kaur, says she is uncomfortable with this narrative.

What did the tweets say?

The original tweet from Ms Kaur in June, featured her standing outside the 16 Century Jama Masjid in the capital Delhi, holding a placard that read: "I am a citizen of India and I stand with the secular values of our Constitution. I will write against communal mob lynching of Muslims in our country. #CitizensAgainstMobLynching."

Ms Kaur told the BBC that she had taken the picture in June as part of nationwide protests titled "not in my name" against rising attacks on Muslims and Dalits (formerly untouchables) by vigilante groups seeking to protect cows, which are sacred to Hindus.

The doctored image by Pakistan Defence saw the text on her sign changed to: "I am an Indian but I hate India, because India is a colonial entity that has occupied nations such as Nagas, Kashmiris, Manipuris, Hyderabad, Junagadh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Goa."

The accompanying tweet read: "Indians are finally realising the truth; their country is actually a colonialist entity."

Image copyright Kawalpreet Kaur
Image caption Ms Kaur posted this screenshot of the Pakistan Defence tweet

Who are Pakistan Defence?

Pakistan Defence, which describes itself as a "one stop resource for Pakistan defence, strategic affairs, security issues, world defence and military affairs" is not officially affiliated to the Pakistan government.

However it is followed by many members of the military and Pakistani commentators and analysts believe it follows the agenda of the establishment. It is known for propagating extreme right-wing content, and has routinely targeted journalists and liberal voices in the country.

It did not respond to requests by the BBC for comment.

Even though its Twitter account has been suspended, Pakistan Defence is far from silenced. Its website is still active, as is its Facebook page, which has more than 8 million followers.

And although Pakistan Defence is not an official blog of the government, many were quick to draw comparisons to an embarrassing instance in September when Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi, held up a photograph as proof of "Indian brutality" in Kashmir.

The image was really of a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, taken in Gaza in 2014 by award-winning photographer Heidi Levine.

Ms Kaur said she was alerted to the doctored image of her by a friend some hours after it had been tweeted out by Pakistan Defence.

"I saw that the handle was a verified account so I tweeted at them asking them to remove the tweet and apologise so that we could end the matter there. But they responded by retweeting my reply with the message that it was to alert Indians to what they have done with Kashmir, which was just absurd," she told the BBC.

Ms Kaur then appealed to people to report the account to Twitter, a call which was taken up in both India and Pakistan. Many Pakistanis, she added, had defended her even before she saw the doctored image.

The account was suspended on Saturday, creating headlines in Indian media outlets, many of whom mistakenly thought the account belonged to Pakistan's defence ministry.

What does Ms Kaur say?

Ms Kaur said she was relieved by the action, but had suddenly found herself the unwilling poster child for India's "triumph" against Pakistan. She made several appeals to people to not "make this an India-Pakistan war" and "sensationalise" the issue.

"The last thing I want is to be used as a pawn for spreading anti-India and anti-Pakistan sentiments," she wrote in a Facebook post shortly after.

What was more galling, she told the BBC, was the fact that the same picture had been doctored earlier by Indian right-wing groups.

"I made a complaint to the cyber security cell but no one even bothered to respond. What does this say then? That it's only not alright for me to be targeted by Pakistani right-wing accounts, but when it happens in India it's ok?"

She said that the coverage of the issue also ignored the fact that liberal voices in India were routinely targeted by government-affiliated right-wing organisations too.

"So many people are trolled and even death threats are issued against them. So much so, that many people choose to self-censor rather than criticise the government.

"I would like some accountability from my own country as well."