Since August 5, there have been 8 million people less on the internet—in a snap. Thanks to the communication clampdown that was put in force while revoking Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and which continues even after 40 days, the population of the once-state remains cut off from the rest of the world. The bridge between all of us and the world—the internet and social media—is torn apart.
Kashmir’s Gen Z, like the demographic in the rest of the world, has been raised on the internet. From using it as a source of news, a means to get a date, a platform to play games or watch porn in incognito mode, Kashmir’s Gen Z is no different from others. Just that they are the ones who lose mobile and internet connectivity most frequently in the world. But this time around, the blackout has been unprecedented.
With no word on when the communication channels will be restored, VICE reached out to some young people in Kashmir to ask how they are putting up with the state of things.
Tahir Qayoom, 21, student
VICE: Hi Tahir, how are you dealing with the communication blackout?
Tahir Qayoom: Though we are used to internet shutdowns in Kashmir and have been brought up amidst blood and violence, this time India has taken it too far. 40 days is a lot! Let alone authentic news from south or north Kashmir, I don’t even know what is happening in the lane next to my house.
Earlier, I would start playing PUBG at night and wouldn’t sleep until the sun came out. Now, I just lie awake in my bed through the night and can hardly sleep. Even if I do manage to sleep, I get nightmares. Watching movies that we have on the hard drive are my only escape.
What do you miss the most about life before the clampdown?
I miss playing PUBG but it’s not just about playing a game but having the right to do as you wish, the kind of rights everyone else enjoys. I fear that everyone outside Kashmir is able to play PubG, but I cannot. It will not only affect my ranking, but it’s also about my rights..
Burhan Bilal Bhat, 20, student and salesman
VICE: What are you missing the most in this communication blackout?
Burhan Bilal Bhat: I’m missing my girlfriend, Mehru, most. Our relationship is manhoos (jinxed). We started dating a week before the 2016 uprising, after which we saw a three-month lockdown. And now, when I’m deeply in love with her, like you can see through this bracelet on my hand that has her name on it, this communication blackout has happened. It is really frustrating. I met her once after the clampdown started and asked her to be at her balcony at 5 PM daily, even though I can’t visit her daily. Her area in Downtown Srinagar is a little prone to protests at that time in the evenings (when the troop deployment is withdrawn).
What do you do now in the place of meeting her?
Now, I have the freedom to smoke because otherwise, she would stop me. However, I don’t like this and I wish someone would stop me. Another guilty pleasure are my other girlfriends. I used to chat with them on WhatsApp because my Facebook was under my girlfriend’s surveillance. But now I regret that too. Now when I’m missing Mehru, I curse myself for talking to other girls when I had the time to talk to her.
What if she read this?
We don’t have internet. She won’t be able to read it.
Sanna Matoo, 25, photojournalist
VICE: Hey Sanna, how has the communication blackout affected you?
Sanna Matoo: I’m a journalist, and Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are our channels to reach out to masses. In today’s day, my Insta profile is my portfolio. Reporting and telling a story is my right—and the state has snatched it. This blockade has taken us back to the medieval times.
When the communication will restore, what will be the first thing you would do?
I would prefer not using it. It would be weird. Last week, I flew to Delhi for a couple of days, and the internet was weird. Seeing people around me on phone was weird. I knew that I had to come back to this blackhole.
I’m not used to it anymore. We have kind of adapted to this blackout. When the phones will restore, I will have a hard time settling down with the social media notifications.
Sarabjeet Singh, 20, student
VICE: When the phone landlines opened, what did you do first?
Sarabjeet Singh: I called one of my cousins in Chandigarh to ask about the latest meme trends, and what else was going on social media. He also told me about the new Punjabi songs that were released. This phone I have (iPhone X) is of no use now. It has lost its relevance.
What do you miss sorely right now?
I really miss my fortnight sessions with my PUBG gang. I’ve also lost my Snapchat streak, and that matters to me. But, in Kashmir, we are also used to it. It is a kind of protocol that we follow. This situation is depressing. It feels like the state has snatched my phone. These days, I scroll through my old WhatsApp group chats, see videos and group pictures, and read old memes. A few of them are really funny. Now, we have moved from PUBG to the parks. Half of the day I don’t know where my phone is.
Are you angry about the state of things?
Not really. If a few days without the internet will save lives in Kashmir, I can live with it. But communication blockade is a real issue. One of my friends’ homes was burnt in the Alluchibagh area of Srinagar, and the family couldn’t call emergency services. The government didn’t really think through with this. I just wish that in the end, it is all worth it.
Aadil Manzoor and Furqaan Mir, 15, students
VICE: Hi guys, how are you dealing with the shutdown?
Aadil Manzoor: I’m very curious about the world, and most of my internet usage is utilised over YouTube by researching on other countries. My favourite is Turkey, because they are an independent country. India might be independent but Kashmir isn’t.
Furqaan Mir: He also worries for his (porn) membership. He badly wants to sign in through the incognito mode. His hands are dry. You understand, right? (Laughs)
What difference is the shutdown making to your daily life now?
Aadil: Google was my go-to thing. Now, I have a lot of confusion about different things with no one to answer my questions.
Furqaan: It has pushed me towards indoor games, especially carrom-board. I can win Kashmir championships now, with the amount of practice I am getting
What will you do when the communication will be restores?
Both: We will ask for a refund on our phone recharge. It all went in vain.
Zoya Mir, 29, clinical psychology scholar
VICE: How have you reacted to the communication blackout?
Zoya Mir: I had a kind of panic attack at first. Anxiety took over me for the next three days. I had multiple dreams about the network being back on my phone—only to wake up with disappointment. It is like an addiction, as well as my right. Suddenly, the state has snatched my right. I felt like a chain smoker who ran out of cigarettes that he could not buy anymore. But largely, I feel like I’m disconnected from the rest of the world. Most of my internet usage was on Google. I would read papers and also browse. Now I feel that I’m lost. I stand nowhere. My growth has stopped.
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