Srinagar: The people in Kashmir heaved a sigh of relief when the government announced it will partially restore internet services across the Valley on January 24 after remaining out of bounds for nearly six months. But, the limited access, many said, spoiled the spirit. In a government order by the Home Department on January 24, mobile data services were restored to all networks including pre-paid and post paid sims whose credentials are “verified”. The speed, however, has been restricted to 2G only and the access has been restricted to what the government terms as “whitelisted sites” only.
“Access shall be limited only to the whitelisted sites and not to any social media applications allowing peer to peer communication and Virtual Private Network applications,” the order said.
The latest orders to restored internet services comes a week after the government resumed internet services in two districts of North Kashmir including Bandipora and Kupwara and most districts in Jammu region on January 18.
In its latest order, however, the government has increased the list of whitelisted sites from 153 to over 300 sites which mostly include major news, entertainment, emails and online shopping portals.
But, several residents claimed that the partial restoration with 2G services on limited sites is not enough. “I mostly use social media sites to connect with my relatives and friends outside Kashmir, for me the internet is still banned,” a resident of Chanapora Asif said.
Also read: J&K: Internet to Be Partly Restored, But No Access to Social Media
Many believe the partial restoration only increases the inconvenience and is not aimed to provide relief. “It is pointless to restore internet like this after six months of complete blackout. I am shocked to see that the government is hanging in the middle in dealing with situations like these,” Asrar a tour operator said. Asrar has suffered massive losses due to the internet shutdown.
Internet services were shut in the region on August 5 as the government abrogated Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. People in the region witnessed an unprecedented clampdown and a severe communication blockade for over next four months.
The internet services were earlier restored in government departments, especially for essential services and educational institutions. At Kashmir University, however, students could only access internet between working hours till 6 PM after which the internet would remain inaccessible.
“We can’t access even basic sites like Wikipedia and most of our online journals and academic sites are inaccessible,” a scholar at KU told NewsClick.
The students at the university also have to submit an undertaking and provide personal details including name and contact number before they can access internet. The undertaking for the usage of internet services is a five-point declaration which includes holding the user responsible for an undefined “misuse” of the internet.
Many in Kupwara, even after a week since the internet was restored, were unaware of the list of whitelisted sites. “We do not know what is accessible and what is not. We don’t even know if there is a list. The speed is so low that even my email app doesn’t open,” a resident of Kupwara town Yasir said.
Meanwhile, scores of business establishments, IT companies, hotels and private offices continue to suffer as their operations remain restricted due to limited access.
“I am seriously thinking of changing my base or operations. I have already lost so much due to the clampdown and even after six months there is limited access, how can we work like this?,” Faheem a co-founder at a startup ThinkEast questioned.
Not only that, access at the government media facilitation centres were also curtailed following fresh orders of restricting access to select sites in the region.
Also watch: Is Kashmir Administration Violating SC Order on Internet Use?