It’s been over 70 days since the communications blockade was imposed on Kashmir after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave the state political autonomy. But on Monday, October 14, the authorities restored some 4 million postpaid connections on the BSNL network in a state that has a total mobile user base of 6.6 million. The connections remain suspended for 2.6 million mobile users with prepaid connections. This comes after a limited number of landlines being made functional, leading to locals queuing up to make their calls. However, mobile internet and broadband services remain suspended.
On August 5, a communication blockade was imposed in Kashmir along with a curfew, which took away people’s access to phone lines and internet. The move also invited a lot of criticism and warnings that this may trigger several forms of unrest along with risks of human rights violations within the state. The government, on the other hand, maintained that the internet and phone shutdown would help curb potential violence. However, within a few weeks, several reports of clashes and protests emerged, highlighting hundreds of Kashmiris turning violent against the security forces. Last month, the Indian Army stated that five civilians had died during the sporadic states of unrest.
More than anything, the lack of access to communication has massively hindered the daily lives of Kashmiris, affecting their education, love, relationships, jobs, medical accessibility, and so on, and clamping down on what the rest of the country enjoys unhindered access to.
The announcement on the relief for postpaid mobile phone users came on October 12 when the government of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) stated they would restore postpaid services amid warnings of threats of “widescale militant attacks being orchestrated from across the border”. “After reviewing the situation, it has been decided that all postpaid mobile phones, irrespective of the service provider, will stand restored and be functional from noon on Monday. This will cover all 10 districts of the Kashmir province,” said State Principal Secretary and official spokesman Rohit Kansal at a press conference.
The relief did not come so easily for some though. As phones started ringing Monday noon onwards, a few Kashmiris also found themselves with phone bills for the last 72 days. And since there’s still no internet, making payments have become a further hurdle.
But as the government reassures that all the facilities will be restored in phases depending on the situation on the ground, it remains to be seen how much access is too much for the authorities. On Monday, J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik, while defending the communication blockade, said that the safety of the people was more important than cellphone services, which are used by terrorists for "mobilisation and indoctrination".
"Telephone was not important to us, but the lives of residents are more important,” he said at a public event, while also adding that situation in Kashmir is “normal” and that “not a single bullet” has been fired over the last two months. "People were living without telephone earlier also, you must understand, telephone being used for terrorist mobilisation.” The governor, for now, promises that internet services will be restored very soon.
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