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‘Entire Population A Prisoner’: 44 Days On, No End To Communication Blockade In Kashmir

Photo: Abid Bhat

Srinagar: More than 40 days have passed since the Narender Modi-led government put the erstwhile state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh under a strict security lockdown and communication blackout.

Although the authorities have restored mobile services in Jammu and Ladakh region, they have given no indication of relaxing the restrictions or opening up communication lines in the Kashmir Valley. Only BSNL landline phones have been restored so far. The communication blockades have not just affected the people living within the state but also those who are connected with Kashmir.

Students struggle to meet ends outside

Hundreds of Kashmiri students living and studying outside the state are facing trouble in contacting their families. Many students who are depended on their families for money are running short of essentials while many haven’t been able to pay their college fee.

The parents too are worried about the conditions of their kiths and kins living outside and have no contact with them.

Photo: Abid Bhat

“I am running short of groceries; my college fee is also pending as my parents aren’t able to send the money,” said Mohammad Abubakar who studies engineering in Chandigarh. Abubakar while speaking to The Cognate on BSNL Landline phone said, he doesn’t know about the wellbeing of his parents living in Srinagar city.

Like Abubakar, there are hundreds of students who are facing similar issues after the Centre implemented a communication blockade in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

The authorities say the blockade is needed to prevent the loss of lives. Even the Governor of the newly formed Union territory (UT) Satya Pal Malik justified the continuation of the lockdown to save lives. The Central government has come under sharp criticism from the international community for prolonging the communication blockade.

The UN Human Rights Council has also expressed concern about the communication blackout in the region.

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet, communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the 42nd regular session of the Council in Geneva last Monday.

Two US lawmakers have expressed similar concerns over the situation in Kashmir and urged the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to convince India to immediately end the communication blockade and release those who have been detained.

Cripples media

The ongoing communication blockade has crippled media in the region. With internet access, mobile phone services remaining suspended and no access to the wires, just a few local newspapers are published.

Journalists representing national and international media are dependent on the government’s media facilitation centre in Srinagar, which has internet, but no Wi-Fi access. Most of the journalists write stories and then take it in the pen drive and file it in the Media facilitation centre. They then reproduce the same in their newspapers with some skeletal reports on the local situation.

Photo: Abid Bhat

According to the local journalists, news gathering has become the causality due to internet and mobile ban. They say they can’t cross-check the inputs and can’t verify the stories. Most of the local media have skipped writing the editorials and other ground reports, they are only carrying reports of different news agencies like PTI, ANI and AFP. According to sources, many local newspapers have asked the district reporters to layoff.

New health challenges

The communication blockade has created many health challenges in Kashmir. With no communication, patients are unable to get emergency services.

“There could hardly be a precedent of such sweeping crackdown on public freedoms anywhere in the world. It is like taking an entire population a prisoner and then forgetting about them,” said Mohammad Hilal a businessman of Srinagar City.

Hilal says the government has no concern for hundreds of patients who need medicines or may need to be ferried to hospitals.

Photo: Abid Bhat

There is also a shortage of medicines, other essentials in many parts of the Valley. And over and above this all, people have no way to contact their loved ones in hospitals, no way to visit them.

The region is witnessing an increasing number of fatal heart attacks as patients are denied medical attention, for want of phone lines, according to a doctor who spoke to the Delhi-based Outlook magazine “In August and September, we have seen a rise in heart attack cases. We are getting eight to 10 patients every day, which is unprecedented,” a doctor, posted at the main hospital in Srinagar said.

Kashmiris living outside have similarly no way to connect with their families, nor do the people in the Valley have any means to enquire the well-being of their kin in different parts of the state. Despite being in the seventh week of the Article 370 revocation, there is no talk of the internet and other communication being restored. The government hasn’t moved beyond opening up landline connections.

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