The continuous clampdown on internet services in south Kashmir region is taking toll on common masses as the service remains shut most of the times due to the frequent militancy-related incidents.
In twin districts of Shopian and Pulwama, the mobile internet services remained cut for the tenth consecutive day after two militants were caught in a cordon and subsequently killed by the government forces, in Chaigund area of Shopian, on 24th of January.
A civilian had died on this same day as locals clashed with police and CRPF personnel in order to aid the militants in breaking the cordon.
Afterwards, four other civilians died too due to army firing, in another incident, including a 10-year-old boy, who died after fiddling with an unexploded shell, which he had brought from the gun battle site in Chaigund.
The internet is the first causality as soon as the encounter rages, says a local. The authorities always refer to this as a ‘precautionary measure’ to curb violence.
“I am running a small documentation shop in main town Pulwama and for services like submission of online forms related to several government and private jobs or filling of examination forms. I have been relying on the mobile internet as I cannot afford a broadband connection. In January alone, my revenue for a month was cut in half not only because of the shutdowns but the authorities bar mobile internet anytime they find it fit to. There are many such shops and retailers who are dependent on the mobile internet like travel agencies/agents who live in the areas of this district where there is no landline available to operate a broadband connection,” says Ishrat Ahmed, a local shopkeeper in Shopian.
Journalists too are finding it difficult to file stories on time due to non-availability of mobile internet.
“We are supposed to travel a long distance, mostly to Pampore from Pulwama and Shopian to file stories or send images and videos to our organizations as the internet is down now since last ten days. At times, some of my colleagues prefer to go straight to their offices in Srinagar to dump the footage as going to Srinagar is same as going to Pampore,” says an internee reporter, Umar Majeed.
The forces personnel deployed on law and order duties in the volatile areas of south Kashmir region too find it difficult to communicate with their families back home.
“It was easier to communicate with families, thanks to internet video calling. Now that the mobile internet is suspended, our families get worried, who call us repeatedly throughout the day on phone during our duties,” says a CRPF personnel deployed in main town Shopian.
Apart from communication, the frequent internet shutdown has affected the internet banking services as well.
“I used to transfer money to my children, studying outside the valley, instantly via mobile banking but the continuous internet shutdown has made it difficult for me to transact via phone,” says a local.
However, the police officials justify the mobile internet ban “to curb the spread of rumors”.
“Normally, there are many incidents of rumor spreading even when the internet is banned. Like, the army has filed a counter FIR in Shopian firing incident or the lady who had been wounded on 24th during the encounter has succumbed. All this is getting spread when there is no mobile internet working in the south Kashmir, one can only imagine what the situation could turn into if mobile internet is not cut. This measure is only taken to curtail the spread and rumors and to protect the life and property of people,” said a top police official posted in south Kashmir.