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Kashmir Is Finally Getting Its Internet Back, but It Comes With Conditions

From “no social networking” to companies being made to hand over security agencies full access to their content, these are all the strings that come attached with the slow opening up of communications in the Valley.
26 November 2019, 9:08am
Kashmir is finally getting its internet back but with these conditions
Kashmiri journalists protest against internet blockade put by India's government in Srinagar on October 12, 2019. Photo: Tauseef Mustafa / AFP

They may not have known it at the time, but August 4 was the last time residents of Kashmir would have access to internet services, even if it's just to play PUBG or stalk their crush on Instagram. During the wee hours of August 5—just before word came out that the Indian government was scrapping Article 370 that granted special powers to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating it into two union territories instead—all internet and communication lines were snapped, leaving Kashmir suspended in a state of total communication isolation.

While some phone and calling services resumed on October 12, it is only now—more than four months later—that Kashmir’s internet connection is finally being restored, albeit slowly and in parts. Reports in November said that government offices would be granted access only if they ensured it wouldn’t be “misused”. And now, in a new development, more than 80 companies have signed a bond saying they will only use the internet for business services. Clearly, as Kashmiris finally get their internet access back, it comes with a lot of strings attached.

According to The Wire website, even all sectors from the hospitality industry—hotels, travel agencies and guesthouses—had to sign an agreement declaring that the internet is being used for “business purposes” only. However, along with it, the signees also agreed to hand over all data from the internet use to “security agencies”, if and when required. Ultimately, they will be responsible for any “breach or misuse of the internet”.

In a copy of the informal bond titled ‘Undertaking for the usage of the internet’, released by The Wire, the government has laid down six conditions for those who want to avail the internet services through an IP address, which basically means that the internet server would only function on a specifically configured device.

The conditions also include no social media, proxies or private servers, VPNs, and that this internet cannot be used as WiFi. The agreement also stresses that “no encrypted file containing any sort of video or photo will be uploaded”, presumably of those depicting current conditions in Kashmir. It also says that all USB connections will be disabled when connected to the network, thereby rendering the primary mode, which most people and journalists have been using to get information from Kashmir under clampdown, pretty useless.

“This is just an assurance we need so that there is no wrong use of the Internet,” an anonymous senior police official told Economic Times. “Connections of some call centres, corporate offices and tourism-related entities whose work is completely dependent on the Internet have been restored as well.”

Meanwhile, travel business owners are unhappy with the current arrangements, and collectively stated that they are ready to sign a bond that they will use the internet facility only for sending tour itineraries and financial transactions. “[But the] government should ease restrictions on the internet, or else the business community, especially the tourism sector, is doomed.” They also pointed out that while the government lifted the travel advisory and have started allowing outsiders to enter Kashmir, it has become tough for the hospitality officials to communicate with their clients because of no broadband services, which is dissuading tourists from visiting the Valley out of fear of being completely cut off from the outside world.

Normalcy might be slowly crawling back into Kashmir, but it’s clear that life here continues to remain in shackles of different kinds.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.