After an unprecedented five month blackout, internet access will be partially restored in Indian administered Kashmir, but only for institutions providing “essential services”, while social media sites and services will continue to be blocked.
The decision to gradually restore internet access, considered the longest shutdown ever imposed in a democracy, followed a Supreme Court ruling last week that the suspension was illegal and has amounted to abuse of power. The court also ordered the Indian government to review all restrictions in Kashmir within a week.
On Tuesday night, January 14, the Kashmir administration declared that institutions such as hospitals, banks, government offices, hotels and tour and travel companies would have their internet access restored, to be provided by 400 new internet kiosks. It will first be rolled out in the region’s capital, Srinagar, and gradually to other areas.
However, the region’s administration has placed stringent terms for use of internet at these facilities and said that only specified “white listed” websites could be accessed, while asking the service providers to install firewalls.
Personal home connections and all access to social media sites still remained banned.
“There shall be complete restriction on social media applications allowing peer-to-peer communication and virtual private network applications for the time being,” said the order issued by Shaleen Kabra, the principal secretary of the home department of Jammu and Kashmir. The order will remain in place for the next week, when it will be reviewed again.
All mobile and broadband internet connections have been suspended in Kashmir since August 5, 2019, when India’s BJP government, led by Narendra Modi, revoked the decades-long special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which had given the region autonomy, and split the state into two territories under the direct control of Delhi.
A severe crackdown followed, during which troops moved into the region, curfews were imposed, and internet and phone services shut down. While many of the restrictions have since been eased, more than 7 million people in Kashmir have been without internet for more than 150 days, which has come at a cost of more than US$1bn (£767m) to the economy and destroyed lives and businesses.
Under the order, the administration allowed the restoration of low-speed 2G mobile internet service in five districts of Jammu region, all of which are mainly Hindu dominated. However, mobile internet will remain suspended in all other districts, including all the ten districts of Kashmir.
Anuradha Bhasin, a journalist who had petitioned the Indian supreme court for restoration of the internet, said the orders given by the court last week condemning the suspension had been “only partially met” by the government.
“The government has not completely lifted the curbs on the internet and this is not in line with the court verdict,” said Bhasin. “The spirit of the judgment is that internet connectivity has to be absolute.”
Bhasin was equally critical that the order would only remain in place for an initial seven days. “The court had ordered them to review the internet ban and instead of reviewing the ban they have decided to review whether the limited connectivity will stay or go,” she said. “It certainly is not in line with the verdict.”
The order by the home ministry also laid out its justification for the internet shutdown. The suspension, stated the order, was to stop “the sustained efforts being made by the terrorists to infiltrate from across the border, reactivate their cadres and scale up anti-national activities in Kashmir”, and to prevent the circulation of fake news in the region.
Tahir Sayeed, the spokesman of PDP party, which was the key partner of the last elected government, said the review done by the administration was “non-compliance of the court order”.
“They are depriving Kashmiris of the fundamental right,” said Sayeed. “Instead of treating the wound, they are trying to cover it up.” (Source: The Guardian)