Amid ongoing concern for vulnerable people in the disputed Kashmir over the coronavirus crisis, the Indian government on Monday decided to extend a ban on high-speed mobile internet until May 11, defying criticism from human rights groups.
The Indian authorities said restrictions on the speed were in place “in order to curb uploading, downloading, circulation of provocative videos, guard against rumor-mongering, fake news, prevent the use of encrypted messaging and VOIP services for infiltration and coordinating activities.”
The controversial order was issued amid criticism from human rights organizations that a continued suspension of high-speed internet services would deteriorate the situation in the region hit by the coronavirus crisis. It could also be used by authorities to further curtail civil liberties.
The picturesque valley of 7 million is one of most militarized places on earth due to a decadeslong insurgency against Indian rule, and its residents have been subject to prolonged curbs on freedom of movement.
The communication blockade in the region has been ongoing since last August. Tensions have run high since a decision by India in August to strip the region of Kashmir of its special autonomous status, a move that angered Pakistan. On Aug. 5, India revoked Articles 370 and 35A, used to grant Jammu and Kashmir special semi-autonomous status separate from the central Indian government. With the articles revoked, Jammu and Kashmir will no longer have its own constitution and will have to abide by Indian laws and the Constitution of India. The announcement came less than three months into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's re-election campaign, which will take place in May.
The internet ban in the region is believed to be the longest communications blackout in the history of any democratic country. Even as the Indian government recently restored partial internet services in the region after almost six months of the clampdown, Kashmiri businessmen say they are still struggling to revive their businesses. Recently the government restored access to 2G services and 1,485 white-listed websites after the Supreme Court’s direction in January.
Amid the internet shutdown and communications blockade by the Indian government, telecom companies have lost 1.4 million subscribers in the disputed Kashmir region, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Data accessed by Anadolu Agency (AA) showed that through last November, the telecom sector contracted by 12.59% in the region, with 1.46 million people foregoing their phone service. In the first month of the shutdown, the region started showing a contraction of 1.14%, with 132,334 subscribers giving up their mobile connections. Ironically, though there were no mobile internet and broadband services, residents claim they are constantly getting bills from telecom companies for services they have not used.