India Restores Some Internet Access in Kashmir After Long Shutdown

India Restores Some Internet Access in Kashmir After Long Shutdown


NEW DELHI — Months after imposing a sweeping communications blackout in Kashmir, the Indian government on Saturday unblocked several hundred websites in the disputed Himalayan region, bringing a tentative end to the world’s longest internet shutdown in a democracy.

The announcement comes nearly half a year after India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, revoked Kashmir’s semiautonomous status. Bracing for subsequent unrest, the authorities suspended landline and cellular connections, cut internet services and dispatched tens of thousands of troops to the area.

Since then, the Kashmir Valley, home to as many as eight million people, has endured a punishing information blackout.

Foreign journalists and diplomats were blocked from visiting the predominantly Muslim territory, which is contested between India and Pakistan. The government arrested scores of Kashmiris, including former heads of state, without disclosing charges. Ordinary Kashmiris struggled to procure medicines and contact loved ones.

The lifting of restrictions on Saturday applied only to 301 “whitelisted” websites. Among them were entertainment platforms like Netflix and Amazon and some international news outlets, including The New York Times. Many Indian publications remained blocked, along with all social media. Mobile data access was also restored, though it was limited to 2G connections.

“It is very slow — and a good joke,” said Sajeel Majid, 35, a restaurant owner in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir. “India wants to deceive the world by saying we have restored internet, but we can’t even access email with 2G speed.”

Though some Kashmiris said the partial restoration of internet services could bring some semblance of normalcy to the region, they pointed out that shops remained largely shut and troops were still posted everywhere. Over the last week, around half a dozen Kashmiri militants were killed in gun battles with Indian forces, who have been accused of torturing civilians and using excessive force against protesters.

In a statement, the government of Jammu and Kashmir said continued internet restrictions were necessary to prevent the “propagation of terror activities” and the “circulation of inflammatory material.” Officials said they would approve more websites in the coming days.

India has increasingly come under scrutiny, both domestically and abroad, for cutting off the internet, a tactic more commonly associated with dictatorships than democracies. The country tops the world in the number of internet shutdowns, with 134 last year, according to SFLC.in, a legal advocacy group in New Delhi that tracks such restrictions.

This month, the Supreme Court ruled that internet access was integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression. Judges said the government’s methods in Kashmir were an “arbitrary exercise of power,” though they stopped short of declaring them illegal.

Hours after the government lifted some restrictions, Kashmiris said web pages — including approved ones — were again blocked for Republic Day festivities on Sunday, which commemorate the day when India’s Constitution went into effect.

“It is just a game to tell people we have restored internet services, but on the ground it doesn’t work and is of no use,” said Adnan Bhat, 19, a student in Srinagar.



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