Last week, when rumours started doing the rounds that the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government may ban Facebook and Whatsapp, avid Facebook users in Kashmir started posting their Twitter handles and Instagram IDs urging friends to connect on those social media platforms.
Nothing happened until news started circulating Wednesday afternoon that the state government has decided to ban access to the internet for a month. It had already blocked 4G and 3G mobile internet since April 17 in Kashmir Valley.
Wednesday’s decision of the ban on social media platforms in the Valley came at around 5pm when a news agency reported a government order has been issued with the decision
Over the past few weeks, many videos including some of human rights violations were circulated on social media bringing back memories of the dark days of 1990s when violence in the Valley peaked. No solution has been found to the insurgency, which started in 1989, to date and Indian security forces continue to struggle to contain it.
In one of the recent videos that got most attention, a young man is seen strapped to the front of a jeep and paraded in public. Other undated videos that were viewed widely included a propaganda clip with militants carrying automatic rifles. A few other videos that show soldiers beating up young men and teenage boys. FactorDaily couldn’t confirm the veracity of the videos.
Wednesday’s decision of the ban on social media platforms in the Valley came at around 5pm when a news agency reported a government order has been issued with the decision. Internet service providers were told that access to 22 social media websites and platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, and Reddit were to be be stopped for a month — “or until further orders” — in Kashmir.
The decision, taken “in the interest of maintenance of public order”, does not apply to the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the state.
Internet shutdowns in Kashmir are common despite the hardship it causes citizens there. Legal organisation SFLC said this February that access to the Internet has been cut 27 times since 2012
Internet shutdowns in Kashmir are common despite the hardship it causes citizens there. Legal organisation Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) said this February that access to the internet has been cut 27 times since 2012. India had more internet shutdowns than any other country in 2016, leading to groups such as the Internet Freedom Foundation launching campaigns to raise awareness about it.
As soon as the message spread, many users started posting their email IDs on Facebook and Twitter urging their friends to stay in touch through emails. There were scores of messages such as “bye for a month” and “khuda hafiz for a month” and some tongue in cheek ones like “please share your postal/mail address”.
As soon as the message spread, many users started posting their email IDs on Facebook and Twitter urging their friends to stay in touch through emails
On Twitter, one tweet read: “This might well be my last tweet as the ban is expected any time now.” Another read: “This might be last one to retweet. RIP Twitter, FB etc.” as the user retweeted Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister Omar Abdullah’s tweet with a BBC article Is India losing Kashmir.
Some made jibes at Abdullah. “Poor Omar Sahib! I wonder what he can do now. His twitter sparrow has been shot down,” tweeted Yousuf Najar, a Srinagar resident.
Arjumand Hussain Talib, a social activist, criticised the decision on his Facebook page: “A cyberworld sans Kashmir’s eight million people: O’ world beyond, please know; FB, Twitter, Whatsapp, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumbler, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit stand banned in Kashmir from today. It all began in 1947 with the radio, followed by some TV channels and mobile phones. Interestingly, 70 years down the line, the interests and the chatter remain the same!”
“A cyberworld sans Kashmir’s eight million people: O’ world beyond, please know; FB, Twitter, Whatsapp, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumbler, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit stand banned in Kashmir from today” — Arjumand Hussain Talib, a social activist, on FB
Fareeda Akhtar said she would be cut off from her only daughter pursuing her MBBS education abroad. “This is quite unbelievable in today’s age. How can I think of not having a video-chat with my daughter for all these days? This is such an inhuman decision on the part of the government,” she told FactorDaily.
Akhtar and her mother video chat with the girl for 15-20 minutes every evening. “Now we have to put it on hold. We also have to spend a lot of money as… international calls are so expensive,” she went on to say. This will be true of the families of thousands of Kashmiri students studying in different states of India or abroad in countries such as Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, US, UK and Canada.
Even traders within the Valley fear losses to their businesses because of the social media ban
Even traders within the Valley fear losses to their businesses because of the social media ban. “This is going to affect us because social media helps in connecting with customers and fellow traders,” said Faiz Bakhsi, a Kashmiri businessman.
Farooq Abdullah, whose National Conference party is the main opposition party in the state assembly, will hit business in general and startups in ecommerce. “This will, in turn, lead to an increase in unemployment as the private sector; especially the tourism sector will be severely hit,” Abdullah, father of Omar Abdullah, said in a statement.
Tourists visiting the Valley this summer have so far been at a good pace. The 30-odd flights to and from Srinagar are mostly running full, the Times of India reported on Monday.
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Updated at 1.16pm on April 27 to remove a Youtube video that was embedded in the story. It is now linked in the story.