Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Indian Express
A letter from his would be wife brought a smile to Firdous’s worried face. He had never thought that their communication would be limited to handwritten notes. Fifteen days back they used to talk regularly, some days even multiple times over phone, but since the removal of special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmir has been under an unprecedented communication lockdown.
On August 5, the people in the valley woke up to a place that was “not theirs anymore”, telephones lines were down, mobile and broadband services were suspended. The people were clueless except that the government was planning “something big” in the state. By noon, their nightmare came true as government stripped the special status and bifurcated the state.
Everyday thousands of people rush to the concerned Deputy Commissioner’s officers and the police stations to make phone calls to their family members who are either staying away from their homes for work or studies. The administration has opened several makeshift telephones booths at different places to mitigate the information blackout. However, these efforts fall short when it comes to catering to the needs of the people.
A resident of South Kashmir’s Pampore, Umar Famboo told NewsClick that he has not heard anything from his father who works in Malaysia even once. He said, “I made several visits to the police station concerned but was disallowed to make an international call. Calls within the country were allowed,” he said. He termed the government’s decision to snap communication as illegitimate and brutal.
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The communication blockade has not only affected the lives of the residents in the state, outsiders working in the valley are equally worried.
Sachin, a resident of Bihar, who works as a chef at a restaurant in Srinagar, told News Click that that he has not been to get in touch with his parents despite visiting the police station multiple times. “I visited the Nehru Park Police station number of times but failed to make a phone call as lots of people visit the police station every day,” he said, adding that the police officials also shoved him away a couple of times from the police station.
He said the tensions in the valley are unprecedented. “I have seen bad times here. I was here in 2014- when floods ripped across the valley and even during the 2016 upheaval but had never faced such a situation. I am waiting for my pending salary before leaving. I am not sure about my return,” he added.
The journalist fraternity is working in the dark in the absence of any sort of connectivity. In the press enclave, the landlines were restored for less than an hour after which they went dead again. “Such a clampdown is unprecedented which the rights groups should take a note of. The irony is that I had to meet a friend and in order to do that I had to leave a note at his office, asking him to meet me at a spot that I had mentioned in the note,” Irfan Ahmad, a Srinagar-based journalist told NewsClick.
Government spokesperson Rohit Kansal declined to comment on the restoration of mobile and internet services. He, however, said that the government has made over 73,000 landlines connections functional out of 93,000, and the rest will be restored gradually.
He said that landlines in Press Enclave and other areas could not restored due to technical reasons. “It will take a couple of days to get the technical glitch repaired,” he told reporters during a press conference in Srinagar on August 20.
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Being the only mode of communication, the residents are thronging the telephone exchanges across Kashmir to either get a new landline connection or reactivate the old ones. “In this high tech age we are forced to go back to old technology. We are here as we have no other option. My son studies in Bangalore and my wife cannot be at peace if she doesn’t talk to him for a week,” Mehraj Ahmad, a resident said, adding that the government has pushed the state back to the Stone Age.
Firdous’s smile faded after reading the letter as he smells more trouble in the coming days. His marriage is to take place on September 1, but he is worried whether the ceremony can be held or not. “I have cancelled all the invitations and there will be no celebrations,” he said.
The author is an independent journalist.