Communication services in Kashmir continued to be blocked on Tuesday — with mobile internet suspended, and cellular network, landline and broadband connectivity down — leaving politicians unable to reach their party and family members and newsrooms unable to receive reports from journalists in the Valley.
There was no Kashmir dateline in Delhi newspapers on Tuesday morning, and Kashmiri news websites such as Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir had not updated their reports from the region since Monday morning. Kashmir Observer and Kashmir Reader did not have an e-paper edition on Tuesday morning.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said in Parliament: “Since last night and up till now… I have been trying to collect information. After many hours, I could establish contact with some districts. Out of 22 districts, 20 districts are under curfew or curfew-like situation… In some places even television is disrupted… internet, mobile services and landline telephones are not working in 10 districts in Kashmir. In the Valley, cars, bus, tempos and trucks are not plying…
“In Jammu, six of 10 districts are under curfew while there is curfew-like situation in three districts. There also, telephone services are shut… In Udhampur and Katwa, where my Hindu brothers are in a majority, I could with much difficulty talk to one person, a former minister who told me that his wife is stranded in Jammu, he was in Udhampur and children are stranded in school and nobody could be contacted over phones.”
PDP MP Nazir Ahmed Laway said: “This is the first time I haven’t been able to reach my son and daughter. I have been calling for three days.”
Kashmiri MPs’ offices — such as those of NC’s Farooq Abdullah and Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad — said they were not able to contact any family or party members in the region. In Parliament on Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah called the restrictions “precautionary”.
Landline numbers for 30 government offices, five universities and two hospitals in Kashmir were not reachable from Delhi on Tuesday afternoon. Websites of the J&K fire and emergency services were not working.
However, BSNL spokesperson S K Sinha told The Indian Express that all BSNL services, except internet services, were working in Kashmir. When it was pointed out that no call to government establishments in the Valley went through on Tuesday, he said: “It is another matter if it is not working because of rain or something. Officially, BSNL landlines are not closed in Kashmir.”
An executive from a private communication service provider operating in Kashmir told The Indian Express that they had received a government order on Monday morning to shut down mobile and voice data, landline and broadband, and cable TV in Kashmir.
The executive said that usually the government only clamps down on mobile data services, and could not recall any other instance when voice data, landline and broadband and cable TV were shut down in Kashmir.
In another unusual move, satellite phones were distributed to civil administration officials. On Sunday, a directory with satellite numbers of administrative officials — deputy commissioners and senior police officers — appeared on social media.
During earlier communication shutdowns in Kashmir, BSNL landlines commonly starting with the number 2 were usually found to be spared. On Tuesday, The Indian Express called many of these numbers — starting with 2 and located in Srinagar, belonging to the Governor’s office and residence, Central University of Kashmir, Government Medical College, Srinagar District Police, Department of Information and Public Relations, Home Department, General Administration Department, Civil Secretariat Exchange, Power Development Department, Department of Food — and found that they were not active.
Just last month, mobile internet services were shut on the death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani. In 2016, after Wani’s killing, internet in Kashmir was shut for 133 days — the longest internet shutdown in India since 2012, according to Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) India.
“Internet shutdowns are common in Kashmir,” said SFLC legal director Prasanth Sugathan. “In most instances, mobile internet is shut down or the speed is slowed down while wired broadband (including WiFi) is left functional. This is the first instance where we are aware of disruption of cable, landline and voice connections.”
SFLC has found 178 instances of government-ordered internet shutdowns in Jammu & Kashmir since 2012. This year alone, the region has seen 53 instances. — Inputs by Manoj CG