Just before the Jammu and Kashmir administration restored mobile telephone services for post-paid connections in the Valley, Monday morning traffic in Srinagar slowed down. After more than two months of the communication lockdown, people walking, driving and even rowing shikaras in the Dal lake took a moment to acquire the network on their phones — the signal was back.
But hours later, the government re-imposed curbs on SMS services. Around the same time, J&K police said two militants shot dead the driver of a truck from Rajasthan transporting apples in Sindhu Shermal village of Shopian district.
Shopian deputy commission Yasin Choudhary told The Indian Express that the militants fired shots in the air to disperse locals and labourers loading the truck and took the vehicle a short distance away before killing the driver and setting the truck on fire.
SSP Shopian Sandeep Chaudhary said on Twitter: “The Mobile phones back in Valley, SMS stopped after terror attack civilian killed by terrorists was a truck driver named Sharif Khan. He was there for transportation of apples, to earn his livelihood.”
In the morning, when the nearly forgotten ring tones rang again after 70 days of the unprecedented lockdown following the scrapping of the state’s special status, people pulled over to the side of the road to congratulate each other. “Assalamualaikum, mubarak” they said, detaching themselves from the cords of the landlines. Pre-paid mobile phones, however, continue to remain suspended.
At 12:10, Ilaham Lateef dialled his daughter’s number. “We are all good. I will go home and make your mother call you too but I just wanted to make sure that this is working,” he said. Until now, they had been speaking to each other via occasional landline calls.
Iram Nazir, on her way to work, also stopped to make a call to her father and check on her parents’ health.
But the signs of relief were soon followed by a frantic dash to pay bills, which in the absence of Internet, meant queuing up at telecom offices and stores of mobile operators in Srinagar. Some turned to friends and relatives in other parts of the country to pay bills and restore phones that had been non-functional since August 5.
“We have three mobiles at home and all of them are prepaid connections. My son is studying outside and unless I get a postpaid connection no one in my family would be able to talk to him,” said Ali Mohammad, a resident of Srinagar’s Sonwar. “I am here to get a new postpaid connection today.”
J&K Police sources told The Indian Express that over 18-20 lakh postpaid connections of different operators were restored in the Valley. Around 11.30 am, state-run BSNL was the first to restore mobile services and the operators soon followed.
In downtown Srinagar, amid new slogans painted on old shutters, people were bent over their cell phones outside shop fronts. Though the restoration of landlines in September had eased the pressure, it was the restoration of mobile connectivity that people eagerly awaited.
For ten weeks, mobile phones had been reduced to alarm clocks or music players and some struggled to even locate them. “I was not sure that phones will actually be restored so I did not carry my phone to work and now everyone’s talking or texting around me,” said Ishfaq, a contractual lecturer at a Srinagar college. “I’m not even sure where my phone is.”
As pre-paid Internet services still remain suspended, people gathered around those with post-paid connections to reach out to distant family. On a shikara floating in the Dal lake, close to the Centaur hotel where more than 30 political detainees are being held by the state, cups of nun-chai brewed on a kerosene stove, while a family of six discussed the events of the day.
“There is an ease among the people today. This could have been done before. The more the government holds people hostage, the more they become restless,” said Jaana Begum, the matriarch of the family.
Next to them, Mohammad Siddique, an employee of the state’s tourism department and in charge of a houseboat called “Four Seasons” echoes her concern.
“They could have done this before and people would not be this anxious. Families don’t want to risk that the bread-winner of the family does not return home,” he said. His own phone, a pre-paid connection is not functioning yet and he said that his family remains worried for him as soon as he leaves his home in Tangmarg (North Kashmir) to report for work.
The “four seasons” has not received any guests this season. “If I am unsure of stepping outside my house, why will people come here, to this uncertainty,” he said.