Image courtesy: Mukhtar Zahoor/ Al Jazeera
“We’ve lost it, they’ve taken Kashmir,” was what Shirin Guru’s mother told her on August 5th in their home in Baltimore, US when she walked in after a doctor’s appointment. Guru, whose parents and family is from Srinagar, remembers her mother crying at their kitchen table watching the news.
The gravity of the situation though hit her after a few days, when she was unable to speak to her cousins, who she had just visited for the summer. When she wasn’t able to get in touch with family, “I started going over photos and videos from the summer and realised that all of those people that I love and care about I cannot speak to them or know how they are doing,” said Guru, attending a protest outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York on the 54th day of the communication blockade in Kashmir, the same day India and Pakistan’s Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi and Imran Khan, spoke at the General Assembly.
Today is the 100th day since the communication blockade in Kashmir and prepaid cell phone users remain without connection. Broadband services and internet across all devices is also not available.
On August 4, 2019, a day before India scrapping Article 370 and abrogating Article 35 A of the Indian constitution that took away the Kashmir regions special status, the Indian government shut down all communication from the area. As a result of the communication blockade, almost overnight and unprecedented, over 6 million people in the Kashmir region lost connection to the outside world, were unable to travel and/or contact family and friends.
At the time the people within Kashmir did not know about Article 370 being revoked and news trickled in slowly, mostly through radio. The Indian government cited security concerns as the reason for the communication blockade, fearing violent protests.
Over the next few months, limited services were gradually restored to various parts of the valley. According to the website Internet Shutdowns that tracks network shutdowns in the country, by September 13, landline services in Kashmir were made fully operational, while cell phone services on postpaid connections only were made available on October 14th, 72 days after the communication blockade was first imposed. 2G connection was also restored in 5 districts of Jammu and Kashmir on August 17th, almost 2 weeks after the initial communication blockade.
As a result of the communication blockade, almost overnight and unprecedented, over 6 million people in the Kashmir region lost connection to the outside world, were unable to travel and/or contact family and friends.
The communication blockade, limiting access to internet and other services that allow for communication was broadly criticised and condemned by human rights organisations throughout the world. This causes grave concerns since it was seen as an attempt to silence opposing narratives to the government.
A coalition of 66 digital and human rights groups strongly condemned this communication blackout in J&K in a statement and called it “the blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, movement and peaceful assembly.”
The shutting down of the internet not only impacts people’s ability to communicate but also has a direct impact on economic activity within the region. The economic policy think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations reported that the 24 shutdowns of mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir state in 2017 cost the state $223 million.
As the communication blockade is partially resorted, the issue has stopped making international headlines. The people of Kashmir, though, have been without any kind of Internet services for a 100 days now, which is a violations of their basic human rights, ensured by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amel Ghani is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy and leads special initiatives on media development, digital rights, privacy online and Media and Information Literacy (MIL).