After abrogating Article 370 and 35A on August 5, 2019, the Govt. of India snapped all the communication services including the access to Internet. The move as per authorities was aimed to maintain law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir. In the month of October, the authorities restored communication lines but that too was restricted to post-paid mobile phones and landline services but the access to internet remained blocked. The suspension of communication services for 70 days was one of the tough measures that administration in J&K took after abrogating Article 370 and 35A. The families whose children were out of Jammu and Kashmir were supposed to stand in long lines in nearest police stations for making a single phone call to them.
In the month of December 2019, the WhatsApp users from Jammu and Kashmir started disappearing from WhatsApp. The reason of disappearing was inactivity of accounts for 120 days. The much awaited SMS services which remained suspended as well was fully restored from the mid night of 31st December 2019. The decision was taken after students and businessman made several requests for restoration.
On 14th January 2020, the Government authorities restored 2G internet services in 2 out of 10 districts of Kashmir (Bandipora and Kupwara) and all the 10 districts of Jammu for 153 whitelisted websites. However, on 25th January 2020, the J&K Government ordered restoration of 2G internet services in the left out districts of Kashmir but the access was limited to 301 whitelisted websites. The social media websites were in the blacklisted websites till March 2020. In March 2020, the administration restored the access to social media websites. After restoration of the 2G Internet services, the authorities in J&K reviewed the internet services on 31st January, 7th February, 15th February , 24th February, 4th March, 17th March, 26th March, 3rd April, 15th April, 27th April, 11th May, 27th May, 17th June, 8th July & 29th July 2020.
In the month of March when the whole world was suffering due to COVID19, the J&K administration kept 4G internet services suspended in entire region. At a time when all the educational institutions are closed and authorities are directing everyone for online education, the students and the faculty members in J&K are facing it very much tough to carry out the process. The ban on 4G Internet services has affected online classes for students. A lot of doctors are complaining that they are not able to access the information, guidelines, and advisories related to Covid-19 still the administration believes that the restrictions haven’t adversely impacted the efforts of the government towards Covid-19 control, education and business activities.
On 5th August 2020, J&K will complete one year of 4G Internet ban. These 365 days of 4G Internet suspensions have proven tough for everyone in J&K. On one hand the doctors are facing problems to download the content related to COVID19 and on the other hand, the students and teachers in the region are failing to meet the work targets. The research scholars in the region who have been directed to submit their Ph.D. thesis online are unable to do so. The scholars are not able to upload high size pdf or word files in mail attachments due to low speed. Regardless of these problems, there is no indication whether the government is anywhere close to restoring the service fully in Kashmir. It is also true that the region is peaceful from last 10 months and there is no sign of any security challenge still the administration is not in a mood to restore the services.
As per a recent survey by a local news agency, over 30 lakh subscriber of Jio in J&K has paid around Rs 553 crore in bills and recharges without actually getting full services. The survey further believes that around 33.56 lakh Jio a subscriber in J&K (as per January 2019 TRAI data) shows each subscriber shelling at least Rs 150 a month.
It has now become important for the J&K administration to restore the 4G internet services in the region. Restoring the services will help everyone in J&K. Our frontline workers will be able to meet the new challenges as posed by COVID19. Restoring the services fully is the will give much relief to everyone in the region. The administration in J&K should start whitelisting websites for 4G Internet services. By doing this, a long demand of everyone in the region will be fulfilled.
Ishfaq Majid and Shazia Kouser are Jammu and Kashmir-based research scholars at the School of Education, Central University of Gujarat. Their writings have appeared in The Diplomat, Economic and Political Weekly, The Rising Kashmir, Medium, Qatar Tribune, Mainstream Weekly, South Asia Journal and Café Dissensus. Follow them on Twitter: @ishfaqmajid07 and @ShaziaKouser06