Internet & Modi Govt’s perception battle in Kashmir?

Indian government sources claim that internet services will be partly restored in Indian Kashmir from Saturday, ending a five-and-a half-month government-imposed blackout in the troubled region. But the move appears more of a "Perception & Image Battle" to impress upon the outside world of increasing normalcy in Indian occupied Kashmir. Only 300 government controlled websites and entertainment portals like Netflix are being restored. Kashmiris can neither use cell phones for communication nor the internet linked Apps like WhatsApp; for all practical purposes Kashmiris stays disconnected from the world around.

Internet

Internet services will be partly restored in Indian controlled Kashmir from Saturday, ending a five-and-a half-month government-imposed blackout claim Indian government sources claim. But social media will stay offline, local authorities explain.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed a total communications blackout in early August when it stripped the portion of Kashmir it controls — the country’s only Muslim-majority region — of its partial autonomy which it had enjoyed since 1947-48 under Article. 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution.

Kashmir had then acceded to the Indian Union on limited points restricted to Defense, Foreign Affairs, Currency and Communication. However gradually New Delhi had been taking away that autonomous status bit by bit. Till mid 1970’s, the chief executive of Indian controlled Kashmir was a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” (President) and not Chief Minister. However final blow came on Aug 5, 2019 when the last surviving symbols of Kashmir’s autonomy, Art. 370 and 35-A were taken away at at time when the Muslim majority state was being ruled directly by centre under Governor  Raj.

India then also imposed a curfew, sent in tens of thousands of extra troops and detained dozens of Kashmiri political leaders and others, many of whom remain in detention, drawing criticism abroad. Around a million Indian army and paramilitary troops are deployed mostly around Kashmir valley (population less than 8 million). This makes the highest soldier to civilian ratio any where in the world.

Internet access will be restored later Saturday, according to government sources. But apparently this internet freedom will be available to only 301 government-approved websites that include international news publications and platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.

“Access shall be limited only to the whitelisted sites and not to any social media applications,” the Jammu and Kashmir home department said in a notification.

Internet Shut Down: Perception Battle? 

Internet in recent years has emerged as one of the basic human rights as freedom of information. United Nations, United States government and most western institutions and media repeatedly emphasise the importance of internet freedoms. It has become a yard stick and barometer of human condition in Indian controlled Kashmir where it is continuously shut down since August.

One month ago, Indian Supreme Court echoed international position when it stated that, “having access to the internet is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression”.

Outside world finds it difficult to understand what is happening inside Kashmir and Kashmiris are unable to communicate to their families and friends across India and the rest of the world. A very vocal Kashmiri community exists across the United States concentrated around California in the west coast and New York in East Coast. Modi government is thus under pressure to send a message that situation in Kashmir is improving. Latest relaxation on government controlled sites and entertainment portals like Netflix appear to be part of that perception battle.

Mobile phone data access will also be restored, according to the Indian government sources. But once again it is limited to slower second-generation (2G) connections, the department added. Earlier one way mobile communication was restored for receiving text messages from banks and financial institutions to facilitate the use of “Two Factor Verification”. Kashmiris are not able to talk to each other or across India and rest of the world through mobile phones and cellular networks. It’s not possible to use WhatsApp and other such Apps.

India is fast becoming world leader in cutting internet services, activists say, and access was also temporarily suspended in other parts of the country during recent protests against a new citizenship law.

Read more: India claims Phone Lines restored but Kashmir is still in Blackout

Since August freedom of movement in heavily-militarized Kashmir has been gradually restored, but apart from at a handful of locations there has been no regular internet access.

This made life even harder for the region’s seven million inhabitants and hit the local economy hard.

Modi’s government said that the blackout was for security reasons, aimed at restricting the ability of armed militants — who it says are backed by arch-rival Pakistan — to communicate.

The Supreme Court however criticised the government earlier this month for the move, calling it an “arbitrary exercise of power”.

The court also stated that having access to the internet “is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression”.

Read more: Human Rights Watch highlights genocide of Muslims in India in HRW Report 2020

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947, and has been the spark of two wars and numerous flare-ups between the two nuclear-armed foes.

A bloody insurgency against Indian rule that has raged in the scenic Himalayan region for decades has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians. In 2009, thousands of mass graves were discovered in only three districts of Kashmir valley – where Indian army had quietly buried Kashmiri villagers claiming them all to be militants. Full extent of those massacres were never accounted for. With this difficult history and background, information black out in Indian controlled Kashmir is all the more troubling.

GVS News Desk with input from Agencies. 

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