A complete ban on the internet in all forms — broadband, lease, data, and mobile — has entered 112th day in Kashmir since the Narendra Modi-led government revoked the restive region’s autonomy and statehood in early August.
On his part, Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently told Rajya Sabha during Question Hour that the decision regarding restoration of internet services in Kashmir would be taken by the Jammu and Kashmir administration “as and when it deems it fit”.
While defending the internet ban Shah said, “There are activities by neighbouring country (Pakistan) too in Kashmir region, so keeping security in mind, whenever the local authority deems it fit, a decision will be taken.”
In the Kashmir Valley, everyone is feeling the heat because of the absence of the internet. They include media persons, tourism players, tour operators, traders, information technology guys, radio jockeys and also ordinary students.
Greater Kashmir, one of the leading English dailies published from Srinagar for over three decades now, has last updated its web edition on the intervening night of 4 and 5 August. Similar is the case with all the English and Urdu publications.
Condemning the prolonged and unprecedented internet shutdown in Kashmir, the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) in a hard-hitting statement said the ban was a matter of deep concern.
The management committee of the KPC while discussing the impact of the internet blackout noted that “For the journalists in Kashmir, the communication blackout has meant minuscule access to the world outside and over 100 days of deprivation and humiliation.”
Since August 5, the journalists and media workers in Kashmir have been deprived of basic communication facilities like internet and broadband services in their offices and workplaces, which has severely hampered their work.
“Now the authorities have made undertakings must for the restoration of internet access in the valley, with one of the conditions in the undertaking requiring the internet users to provide unfettered access to content and infrastructure as and when required,” the KPC said.
The KPC body in a meeting described the internet ban and various restrictions on journalists and media fraternity in Kashmir as “totally unwarranted and unreasonable aimed at gagging the Kashmir press”.
The denial of internet facilities has also resulted in job losses in the information technology sector, tourism and hospitality industry. Prominent radio jockeys, who work for the entertainment industry, are also feeling angry and frustrated.
Vijdan Saleem, a young presenter for an entertainment radio station, told The Federal that he has lost traction on social media platforms. Every week before the clampdown, he claimed, his social media page would attract fifteen thousand new profile visits. Recently, he visited New Delhi and received a jolt on knowing that he has lost the fan base.
“From fifteen thousand, the profile visits on my page have dramatically reduced to 200 per week,” he said, adding that, “I am not sure how I would be able to attract new profile visits if the internet services continue to remain suspended in Kashmir.” He added that he was a “nano influencer on social media”, but was on the verge of losing his fan base and sway.
A co-owner of a Srinagar-based café said that at least 15 percent of their orders would usually be placed via internet platforms before the suspension of internet services. “After the imposition of internet ban in early August even our PoS (point of Sales) machines are not functional,” he said, adding that, “The café’s projection of sales has gone down by 50 percent while the economic losses are over ₹5 lakh in last 110 days and the annual sales affected by over 40 percent.”
Meanwhile, a Jammu-based trade body has said that the losses suffered by the Valley-based growers and traders should be compensated at the earliest. The Jammu Chamber of Traders Federation called for fiscal incentives and immediate restoration of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Chandigarh, senior Communist leader Sitaram Yechury demanded that economic losses to Kashmir-based traders because of the internet ban should be declared a “national calamity”.
(Gowhar Geelani is Kashmir-based journalist and political commentator.)