Srinagar: A new report on the continued curbs on internet in Kashmir has termed the disruption of internet services here as “digital apartheid” that amounts to “collective punishment” against the people of the region.
The report titled – Kashmir’s digital siege: an ongoing assault on digital rights - was released on Tuesday, by a prominent Srinagar-based civil rights group, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) in the wake of what they termed as a prolonged “digital siege” in the war-torn region.
The report describes “how the digital siege affects the lives of ordinary Kashmiris, resulting in silencing and erasure of their human rights, opportunities, and aspirations.”
Calling this an attempt to further isolate Kashmiris, the report said, “The siege serves as a deliberate means of severing social, economic and political connections between Kashmiris, while also isolating them from the world. For the already vulnerable people of Jammu and Kashmir, who live amidst a state of perpetual war and permanent emergency, it enacts a ‘digital apartheid’, a form of systemic and pervasive discriminatory treatment and collective punishment.”
A communication blockade including on the internet services was enforced in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir last year on August 5 as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre revoked Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union territories. A blanket ban was imposed on the use of communication devices. These restrictions were gradually eased over a period of six months, however, high-speed internet services continues to remain off bounds.
The severing of all communication lines including mobile networks and internet by the authorities in the region was hugely traumatic for the people of Kashmir who were left with very limited options in the wake of medical emergencies. The report gives insights about the impact of the digital clampdown on people’s health, livelihood, justice system and related rights and freedoms.
“For the already vulnerable people of Jammu and Kashmir, who live amidst a state of perpetual war and permanent emergency, this siege is enforced by various modes of network disruption and state control over access to the internet. These disruptions disproportionately target essential civilian supplies and services, adversely impact human rights and preemptively silence all forms of online speech,” the report said.
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The report added that the effects manifest themselves in many different ways, some of which are a clear indicator of worsening mental health.
Calling them as “digital refugees”, the report said many students and scholars had to migrate outside Kashmir Valley due to the digital clampdown as their education suffered in the wake of the disruption and in-access to opportunities.
“This displacement from their homes and separation from families is premised on the implicit acknowledgement that life in Kashmir is subject to constant violence, interruptions and curfews, and cannot provide a nurturing environment for a student,” the report added.
India leads the world in terms of government authorised internet shutdowns, and both in terms of frequency and duration, Jammu and Kashmir accounts for more than two-thirds of the Indian shutdowns ordered, the report said.
Internet services in a majority of areas, except in the two districts of Udhampur in Jammu division and Ganderbal in Kashmir, is restricted to the obsolete 2G even now. High-speed internet was restored in the two districts earlier in August on “trial basis” till September 8 which means that the authorities will review the decision next month.
“Even this access remains extremely precarious as localised shutdowns of the internet in specific districts or areas, often accompanied by mobile phone disruptions, are commonplace, sometimes lasting for up to a week,” the report wrote.
Authorities in the region have been saying that the clampdown on internet services is carried out as a measure to prevent “law and order” situation in the restive Valley and is often associated with the people’s use of online platforms like social media for aiding political expression against the government.
Also watch: Is Kashmir Administration Violating SC Order on Internet Use?