After inaugurating a highway tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on April 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the youths of the state to choose tourism over terrorism, promising them jobs and investment. Before the month could end, authorities enforced an internet ban in the region. Barely a month before that, on April 26, the state government had banned 22 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
The ban has not only cut people off social networks — although many have found a way to flout it — it has also stifled the earning prospects of those employed in tourism and related fields.
“I used to receive online orders from different parts of India. But the internet ban has almost shut my business” — Mir Iqbal, an entrepreneur from Kashmir’s Shopian district
Mir Iqbal, a young entrepreneur from south Kashmir’s restive Shopian district, says his business has plummeted by 80% since the ban came into effect. He started his venture, Mir Agrofarm Products, which sells saffron, dry fruits and organic food products, only last year. “I used to receive online orders from different parts of India. But the internet ban has almost shut my business,” he says.
There are about 1,000 people employed in the ecommerce sector in Kashmir. President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, told 101Reporters that tourism, handicraft and horticulture sectors have registered a 50% decline in business owing to the internet ban.
Chairperson of Kashmir Economic Alliance Muhammad Yasin Khan says more than 50% business transactions in the valley take place online. “These transactions have now come to a halt,” he says.
Chairperson of Kashmir Economic Alliance Muhammad Yasin Khan says more than 50% business transactions in the valley take place online. “These transactions have now come to a halt,” he says
A spokesperson of the Courier Service Providers’ Association says courier companies in the region were facing losses of Rs 30-40 lakh every day. “We are completely dependent on the internet. People are not being able to buy anything online,” he says.
Kartfood, an online food delivery service that was started barely six months ago by college students Amir Bashir Dar, 19, and Furqan Qureshi, 21, is another case in point. Until April, they were receiving orders through Facebook and the business was “overwhelming”, so much so that they launched a website and an Android app.
“Our business was flourishing until a month ago,” Dar says, adding they had hired some delivery boys and intended to hire 20 more as they were to start delivering medicines and groceries in May. The ban has taken the steam out of their plans. Earlier they used to receive 60 orders a day; now they get less than 15.
Omaira Qayoom and Beenish Bashir, who run an online store called Craft World Kashmir too said the clampdown has thrown a spanner in their works. Omaira says their online orders from Bangalore, Delhi, Jammu and Mumbai have almost stopped. They mostly use Facebook and Instagram to market their products and receive orders via social media and email.
Kashmiri Zaiqa, an online Kashmiri food store that accepts orders through its website and app, has lost 85% of its business, says proprietor Mushtaq Ahmad. He gave the example of a recent order that was placed from Pune and the food was to be delivered in Srinagar for someone’s birthday, but they couldn’t even access the details of the order.
Five years, 32 clampdowns
The state government, after initially stopping 3G and 4G internet services, decided to ban 22 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, on April 26 in an effort to stop circulation of videos, including some of human rights violations, in the wake of growing protests in colleges and universities across the state against the alleged violations.
The mobile internet ban that followed shortly after the social media ban was lifted on May 26, has crippled the state’s trade sector
The mobile internet ban that followed shortly after the social media ban was lifted on May 26, has crippled the state’s trade sector. The authorities enforced the ban as a “precautionary measure” — to check circulation of inciteful content — after the killing of militant commander Sabzar Ahmad Bhat in an encounter with security forces in Tral.
According to Software Freedom Law Centre, a private organisation based in New Delhi, internet has been banned 32 times in Jammu & Kashmir since 2012. Even the United Nations has appealed to the Indian government to withdraw the ban.
Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira
Inside photographs: Umar Ahmad
The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.