On 30 October, Khan Jahangeer had just finished his work in the Nowhatta area in Srinagar when he got a call from his colleague asking to share some important documents through WhatsApp. As he clicked the sent button, a notification on the screen said, “Check your phone’s internet connection and try again”. Toggling the data connection on and off, Khan was unable to send the documents across.
On the same day, Arshid Hussain, a resident of Budgam, went to fill his car at a petrol pump at Qamarwari, with his debit card in his hand. However, there was a cold response from the employee at the first sight: “Sorry internet is not working here right now.”
Parts of Kashmir, according to reports, are witnessing “unofficial” intermittent internet gags since the last few weeks following the recent spate of civilian killings in the Valley. The areas include Anchar, Eidgah, Qamarwari, Soura, MR Gung, Nowhatta, Safa Kadal, Bagyass in Srinagar district; Kulgam district’s Wanpoh, Qaimoh and the Litter area in the Pulwama district.
Aftermath of Civilian Killings
As many as 12 civilians were killed in Kashmir, including a famous pharmacist, two teachers and five labourers, who belong to the minority community of Kashmiri Pandits.
I spoke to scores of civilians, including journalists, businessmen, students and academicians to know about the difficulties they have been facing since this unnoticed internet gag started.
“I had to travel over a dozen kilometres from Nowhatta to Shalteng to send the document to my colleague. It is quite frustrating and irksome,” Khan said.
Shams Irfan, a local journalist, said that it has almost been twenty days since the authorities came up with a “unique schedule” for the intermittent shutdown of the Internet in the Valley without any reason.
He says, “There could be a reason, but unless and until they have not made it public, for us there is no reason. So, without any reason, they have come up with a curtailment plan that is being implemented religiously every single day since the last 20 days.”
Shams added, “There is a proper schedule for Internet suspension like you have a schedule for power cuts, which is a very unique thing in itself”. For example, from 7.30 am to 10.30 am and from 2:30 pm to 10:30 pm, the Internet remains suspended, while during the remaining hours, it is restored. “There would be no internet cuts like this at any place in the world,” says Shams.
“This Internet gag is a sort of punishment and a painful process for everyone. I don’t know why the authorities are doing this,” he lamented.
Shams, who lives in the Pampore town in South Kashmir, adds, “If I have to send an email, I have to travel to Srinagar, because being a journalist I have to be in touch with my office round the clock.”
Searching for Internet
Even so, it is not certain, he says, that he would receive email or WhatsApp messages even during the Internet working hours. “So, every single day, I have made it a point now that I have to travel to Srinagar because there is no other way to access the Internet.”
“The recent internet gag has not only affected journalists, students and professionals but has a deep impact on the businesses across the Valley,” he says.
“Today, WhatsApp is the backbone of all businesses, be it small or big. For example, if a businessman has to place an order from outside the Valley, the dealer sitting outside shares photographs on WhatsApp and then the businessman in Kashmir chooses. But when you don’t have Internet for 10 hours a day, how can you work?” he asks.
He added that it is not possible that one would visit Srinagar every time, check their email and messages, and come back. “It is a cumbersome process.”
Shams says, “To be precise, the authorities are not making our lives easier, but rather they are making life harder for us.”
This journalist tried to reach out to Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, PK Pole and Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar. But none of them responded.
Social Media Outrage
The unofficial but heavy internet gag has sparked outrage on social media, with users mocking the government for their approach towards the locals.
Adnan Bhat, a multimedia journalist, said on Twitter, “Went out to buy medicine for mother. Forgot prescription. Asked dad to WhatsApp it. But couldn’t download it because we have an unofficial mobile Internet ban in Srinagar.”
Sidrah, another Twitter user, while taking to Twitter, said, “Frequent Internet Cuts and an Internet schedule now. Cruelty is the norm”.
The gag not only irks common users but have a great toll on the studies of students. Arhan Waheed, a research scholar of economics at the IUST, said on Twitter, “It is sickening to the stomach. Every day, I travel to the IUST & my Internet gets disconnected from a stretch of peaks bypassing up to the varsity. This is happening since the last week.”
“Being a research fellow, the sanctity of place doesn’t matter for us as we have to access different journals, online assignments, etc, while being on the go. But this pilot-based intermittent Internet gag is frustrating, to say the least,” Waheed added.
Mohammad Tahir Firaz, an academician who teaches at Dublin University, said, “After Internet blockade, authorities in Kashmir have devised another way of restricting Internet”.
“A restrictive schedule of the Internet has been forced upon our town. It goes like this: from 10.30 am – 3 pm Internet is on, from 3 pm – 10 pm Internet is off. That is 7 hours of Internet cut. And I am not sure how it goes after midnight,” Firaz said.
He added, “I have to adjust my work to this schedule, but it is frustrating, appalling. You can’t work properly in such a situation.”
'Turning Into a Police State'
Ifra Jan, spokesperson of the National Conference, said, “The Supreme Court in the Anuradha Bhasin judgment had clearly laid down that gagging Internet is violating the fundamental rights of the citizens … And there was proper procedure laid down, where any Internet restriction order had to be put out in the public so that the citizens can challenge it in the court,” she added.
“We see Internet restrictions but no orders anywhere,” she said, adding that “unfortunately and scarily, we are turning into a police state”.
“And the first step towards this Orwellian State in Kashmir was taken the day an elected government was toppled by the Central government to be replaced by an unelected and unaccountable government,” adds Ifra.
(Ishfaq Reshi is a journalist based in Kashmir)