Naila Altaf Kayani
It is hard to believe in today’s time of connectivity that in Kashmir more than seven million people are experiencing more than 180 days of an internet blackout. This blockade was imposed on August 5th last year and is the longest ever recorded in the history of the internet and the longest by any democracy in human history. This unjustified violation of basic democratic rights is having devastating impacts on people’s everyday life, education sector, health sector and has ruined the economy in many ways.
The right to Internet access, also known as the freedom to connect, states that all people must be able to access the internet in order to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton remarked on Internet Freedom in 2010, “the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.”
The Indian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, revoked the constitutional autonomous status of Indian held Kashmir (IHK) under article 370 of the Indian constitution and split it into two territories under the control of the federal government. This unilateral decision has been followed by a series of other brutal steps, including moving in tens of thousands of troops in IHK totaling the number of military and paramilitary forces to 900,000 and converting the valley into the largest open jail on the face of the earth. The top leadership of IHK including former chief ministers, legislators, and separatist leaders has been detained, curfews and travel restrictions have been imposed and communications (phone access to the internet) have been cut off under the British colonial era’s section Indian Telegraph Act of 1885.
It is worth noting that India is already notorious for internet shutdowns in the name of maintaining “peace and tranquility” in global spheres. According to a report on BBC India has clamped down internet services 106 times in 2019, highest in the world, with Pakistan having 12 shutdowns in the comparison. India claims to be the largest democracy in the world but has failed to ensure democratic norms and global digital rights. India is using Internet shutdowns to curb every possible civil unrest, in spite of using democratic means or getting to the root cause of the problems. There is no precedence of such a massive and prolonged internet ban from a democratic country on its subjects. India has surpassed the restrictions imposed by authoritarian countries like China and Myanmar in gravity and time length, both. (Washington Post Dec 15, 2019)
Communication restrictions have calamitous impacts on all the sectors of life. Everyday transactions, Online Banking, Communication, Online entertainment, the flow of information and money, are all at a halt.
It has been widely reported that families remain unable to communicate with their relatives and to know their whereabouts and well-being. Thousands of families across India and abroad have been unable to contact family in IHK. Members of divided families in Azad Kashmir remained concerned about the families, friends and loved ones across the Line Of Control for weeks. Primitive methods of communication like paper notes and letters became the only ways of communication.
Communication blackout is not only restricting basic freedoms but is also preventing people from getting proper healthcare. From chemotherapy to dialysis, patients are struggling to access lifesaving treatment on time. Situation is even worse for poor patients who are unable to get access to their records in order to receive free medical care under Government insurance schemes. Similarly pharmacists are unable to restock medicine as online orders of drugs and vital supplies like baby food and insulin are simply not possible.
Internet blackout has messed with education in IHK as well. Researchers, students, teachers and supervisors have been unable to communicate for many months. Even after the slight loosening on landline telephones and partial restoration of 2G internet, a proper usable internet remains out of reach for 7 million people in IHK. According to Internet Live stats as of October 2019, only Google Search Engine handles 77,500 queries per second, this translates to about 2.4 trillion searches per year. This clearly shows how the internet is widely relied upon for information gathering. Internet blockade has badly hindered the researchers in meeting deadlines and has further contributed in darkening their future.
Internet Clampdown has shown catastrophic impacts on economy of IHK. Tourism, which is backbone of economy for |Jammu and Kashmir is facing a grim future. Tourism is entirely dependent on the internet, from bookings to payments. According to the Kashmir Chamber of commerce economy has suffered an estimated loss of 1.8 billion US Dollars. In year 2018 almost 850,000 tourists visited J&K, year 2019 brought an 87% fall in this number. Horticulture, start-ups, online sales and purchase businesses all have suffered the similar fate. Online courier services, media are not an exception.
According to a report published by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 60% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir comprises youth, and unemployment is a serious issue. Unemployment rate in erstwhile IHK stood at 15.89% from Jan to Apr 2019, which unemployed graduates are 25.2% for the similar period. Obviously the situation has worsened after August 5th actions of Modi Sarkar. Filing annual Goods and Services Tax has been made impossible which will further complicate the situation. Businesses are losing clients and are crippling.
The world’s longest Internet blockade is taking a toll on all levels. Musicians who relied on YouTube, Instagram, and other digital services are facing a gloomy future. Kashmiris are gradually losing their WhatsApp accounts as a result of Facebook’s policy on inactive users.
The United Nations has repeatedly condemned government-Ordered internet shut down as a violation of human rights, and UN Official has urged India to lift the ban. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the right to access the internet was a fundamental right of people of J&K under article 19 of the Indian Constitution. CNN, BBC, and leading international newspapers are constantly bashing India on this undemocratic action of making Kashmir invisible. But nothing seems to deter India from behaving like a fascist state.