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4G Suspension In Occupied Kashmir Worsening Coronavirus Crisis In The Valley

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It was August 5, 2019, when Article 370 was revoked in Jammu and Kashmir. Consequently, mobile internet was suspended on the same day. Six months later on January, 2G mobile internet with access to less than 1000 whitelisted sites was restored. The 173-day internet shutdown in J&K starting from 5th August 2019 till 25th Jan 2020 is the largest ever imposed in a democracy according to Access Now, an international advocacy group that tracks internet suspensions.

Suspension of mobile internet in the valley has resulted in a loss of billions with the Kashmir chamber of commerce estimated at $1.4 billion in losses already. Many online businesses have faced an unfortunate shut down due to high-speed internet suspension while others had to settle with a loss of millions.

Today, during a pandemic when the world is relying on the internet, from online studies to health reports, high-speed internet still remains suspended in Kashmir for the last 10 months. Students have been asked to attend online classes but with high internet still blocked, they find it very difficult to open a web page. Videos on YouTube buffer even at 144p quality.

Encounters between security forces and rebels in the valley happen frequently and even low-speed mobile internet including mobile networks remain suspended for weeks in the district where the encounter happens and people cannot even communicate with their families on phone. Recently an encounter happened in Nawakadal area of Srinagar which left almost 15 houses of local residents gutted to ashes and the entire communication in the city was blocked for almost 4 days. This regular blockade of mobile internet has left the people in Kashmir frustrated.

Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) which is an internationally recognized human rights organization provides basic and medical support to families of the enforced disappeared who cannot get such support themselves.

APDP also maintains regular contact with the families of the enforced disappeared people and checks on their status. Suspension of high-speed mobile internet has created a barrier in their work and people find it very difficult to reach them and ask for help during such a situation. People who want an internship at the organization have also faced a number of problems due to low-speed internet.

The 4G suspension has also severely affected the medical services in the valley. Dr Irfan, a consultant cardiologist at the SMHS hospital, Srinagar says that the initiatives taken to stop the spread of Covid-19 have been affected due to internet blockade. Doctors in Kashmir find it very difficult communicating overseas looking for measures to tackle Covid-19 due to internet blockade. Many people still don’t have adequate information regarding Covid-19 and its symptoms thanks to this 10-month internet shutdown and this is where 4G internet could have come to the rescue of people.

Imtiyaz Ahmed, a local network engineer said he moved to Delhi in march away from his family just to carry his work from there which demands high-speed internet. Many other engineers have also shifted to other states for their work. Others who could not move out of the valley due to personal reasons have lost their jobs and stand unemployed.

Many petitions have been filed in the supreme court of India seeking the centre to restore 4G internet in Kashmir. One of the petitions was filed by Freedom for Media Professionals and private schools association Jammu and Kashmir, which had challenged the present 2G internet connectivity. The Supreme court bench headed by justices NV Ramana, Subhash Reddy and BR Gaval directed the centre to constitute a special committee for examining whether 4G internet can be restored in the Union Territory. During the May 4 hearing, the special committee forwarded its report to the centre stating the restrictions on high-speed internet are necessary for maintaining national security in the UT.

The local political party, Peoples Democratic Party has also criticized the centre regarding the internet blockade. In a statement, PDP leader, Rouf Bhat said, “When people of Kashmir need fast and efficient information to fight the dreadful disease, its consequences, they have been deprived of the high-speed internet which amounts to sheer injustice”.

The administration in J&K has already justified its decision to restrict 4G internet, a month back. The administration has stated that access to the internet is not a fundamental right. The administration also pointed out that the misuse of data services and social media apps has the potential to cause large scale violence and threaten the security of the country.

While access to 4G internet feels like a distant dream for the people of J&K, everyone here can just hope for high-speed internet getting restored very soon. It has been more than 300 days since 4G internet was last time used in the UT. The current global pandemic which is increasing day by day should be an eye-opener for the centre to reconsider their decision of restricting high-speed internet in the UT.

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