6 Months of J&K Reorientation and Internet access still suspended in Kashmir
On August 5th, 2019, Home Minister of India, Amit Shah announced that the government had scrapped Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution by an order from the President of India. The special status of Jammu and Kashmir had been revoked. This resolution was accompanied by the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill which turned the state into two Union Territories — Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh.
After the withdrawal of special status, the government imposed a complete communications shutdown in the valley. While the postpaid mobile services were restored on 14th October, the prepaid mobile services and internet services remained suspended across Jammu and Kashmir.
On 10th January, 2020 the Supreme Court called the internet shutdown as unconstitutional and ordered the government to restore internet access for all essential services. And, after this judgement, prepaid mobile services were restored on 19th January, 2020 across Jammu and Kashmir.
February 5th 2020 marked the 6 months of J&K reorientation and internet services are still suspended in the valley. Here’s a list of all The Suno India Show’s episodes on Kashmir.
According to the assessment conducted by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for 120 days starting August 5th, the GDP-based report states that 10 districts of Kashmir which included 55% of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir saw more than Rs. 17000 crores of losses following the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation. The report finds that tourism, handicrafts and horticulture trade are the industries that have severely been impacted by the suspension of internet access and services. According to the report put out in 2019 by Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns, India has lost $1.3 million in 2019 due to internet shutdowns. India is also ranked third in the world in terms of both hours of shutdowns and economic loss incurred. Among the others, the apple industry was also affected, the harvesters had to sell apple boxes at the price of Rs. 800 instead of the usual Rs. 1000 because there was no transportation and availability of packers.
The President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sheikh Ashiq says, “Tourism industry was completely shut down. Then you come to the handicraft industry, which was export-oriented, even now suffering because the internet is not open and no email facility either. As a result, 62% of our exports could not materialise.” He tells us that construction projects worth more than Rs. 3000 crores have come to a standstill. Everyone working in the e-commerce industry has been left jobless. He says that the loss is “irreparable” because these industries have been hit severely and the season of bustling business in the tourism and handicraft exports sector is during Christmas and New Year. Ashiq claims that Jammu was also affected by the internet shutdown like Kashmir because Jammu supplies its goods to Kashmir which is a consumer-based industry. However, he added that there were about 8 districts where in spite of the internet being open and the presence of adequate markets in Jammu, their sales were not promising.. He says, “I see we are near economic collapse.”
Article 370 was scrapped without taking into account the opinions of the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly. However, Madhabhushi Sridhar, a former Central Information Officer says, “Jammu and Kashmir have to constitute a constituent assembly for itself on its own, which was not done. In the absence of an institution called the constituent assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, it is impossible to take the recommendation from the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. This is one side of the argument. The other side is that because it (constituent assembly) is not there, you cannot pass the resolution.”
While talking about the emotions behind the revocation of Article 370 and the Reorganisation Bill, he added, “There is emotional or sentimental support for the abrogation of Article 370. I can also say that Ladakh being a union territory is acceptable because there was a demand from Ladakh, and the geographical conditions of Ladakh also favour it being made a union territory. But why not Jammu and Kashmir remain a state?”
The complete lockdown on Kashmir began on the midnight of 4th of August — all communication including phone lines, internet services and cable channels were suspended. The Government imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code and prohibited public meetings and restricted movement of people. All schools and colleges were shut and the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is heavily militarized. A week before the announcement, 35000 paramilitary groups were deployed into the Valley.
Ali Saffudin, a Kashmiri folk singer shared with us two days after the shutdown, the experiences of him and his family and what they felt when all communication was cut off. Ali had flown down to Delhi to get medicines for his grandparents and managed to give us an interview. Ali shared with us how horrified he was by the complete lockdown on Kashmir, “Kashmir had turned overnight into a war zone where if you fly a drone or run an aeroplane over it you could have seen that either all the people have been massacred and they do not live here or is it like a place where some kind of shooting is happening. It is unreal.”
The Kashmir internet shutdown happens to be the 51st time as of now. Access to the internet has been cut off by the State in 2019. The United Nations has declared access to the internet as a basic human right. Given PM Modi’s vision for “Digital India”, internet shutdowns seem to be increasingly problematic and hinder communication and access to basic services in the area.
The Executive Director of Internet Freedom Foundation, Apar Gupta told us, “There is this way of thinking that has seeped into the police and the local administration that prevention is better than cure, but that’s a very bad principle to take towards restricting somebody’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.”
While talking about the impact it has on the lives of ordinary people, he added, “Lot of people will not be able to access health services, will not be able to access emergency and essential services because a lot of things have become digital now.”
One of the main concerns following the communications blockade in Kashmir has been the effect it has had on the people especially in times of emergencies. Healthcare is another one of the most important sectors which have been affected by this, and access to healthcare has become seemingly more difficult.
We did a ground report at Laldher Hospital, popularly known as LD Hospital at Srinagar where patients expressed the trouble they had to go through in order to reach the hospital. One man had admitted his wife several days before her due date, while another man had trouble getting his wife to the hospital during labour pains because the police had shut off roads.
On December 5th, the fourth month after revocation of Article 370 and 35A and suspension of internet services and telecommunications, a ‘Restoration of Democracy March’ was held from Jammu and Srinagar and the organizers Rajendra Narayanan and I.D. Khajuria of J&K Peace Forum and Territorial Integrity spoke to us about the trouble they faced to enter districts on their march from Jammu to Srinagar.
Kannan Gopinathan, a former IAS officer spoke to us about the importance of expressing dissent and opinion about the acts of the government. Kannan Gopinathan had resigned from his position as Secretary of the Power Department of Daman and Diu following the communications shutdown in Kashmir. He says “It is our country and it is our elected government, why should we fear? It never occurred to me that I should be afraid, there is no reason to be afraid. If you are confident of the government, if you feel that the government is good, it is, even more, the reason you should be free to express.”