Under Internet blackout, Kashmir residents can’t tell their own stories
Issued on: Modified:
Residents of Kashmir have struggled to relay information about the reality in the region as a phone and Internet blackout continues to isolate them from the rest of the world, with only a few videos making it out.
The Internet blackout began the night of August 4, the day before Indian authorities revoked Kashmir's special constitutional status. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had vowed to rescind Kashmir's special status, that gave the disputed state a certain amount of autonomy, in his 2019 election campaign. However, the surprise move has sparked concerns that India's most restless region may become yet more volatile.
Those in Kashmir have since remained cut off and under a curfew -- with a brief reprieve for Eid al-Adha on Monday.
“I decided to take this video back to Delhi to share it with my friends”
One engineering student from Pampore who is now in Delhi took a video of the city's empty streets on August 11. He explains what he witnessed, and how he shared his video.
On the night of Saturday [August 10] I could hear loud slogans and boys screaming in the distance. It was not too far away from home. I heard tear gas shells being fired and shots. This went on for a long time and it was scary. I feared the worst.
A video provided to the Observers by a student from Kashmir shows the largely empty streets during the lockdown.
I could not sleep that night. The next morning I took the car for a quick drive around the neighborhood. I saw burnt tyres, the road littered with stones and even a pool of blood on the side of the main road.
I decided to take this video back [to Delhi, during a return to studies on August 12], to share it with my friends. I am sure there are more videos circulating. But the situation in Kashmir is not normal at all.
For six days almost all residents of Pampore were shuttered inside. It was impossible to get curfew passes. We had no idea what was happening in Srinagar and in the [Kashmir] Valley after the clampdown the night of August 4. Some of us were not allowed to visit the mosque to pray.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team was not able to independently verify any incidents in Pampore on the night of August 10. However, while many Indian outlets have focused on the supposed normalcy and peace of the situation in Kashmir, the government’s decision has sparked demonstrations in the areas around Srinigar and Kargil, in the Ladakh part of Kashmir.
The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs initially denied that there had been any sort of large-scale demonstrations and described a video published by the BBC showing a protest on August 9, in the Soura area of Srinigar where tear gas was fired, as a fabrication. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 13 acknowledged that a protest took place and said that unrest had broken out when “miscreants” threw stones at officers.
“Kashmiri voices are missing. They are all missing our identity”
Talat Bhat, a Kashmiri independence activist who spends his time between Sweden and England, helps run a volunteer-based Facebook page called Jammu Kashmir TV that covers both the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers that his normal group of contacts in the region providing information has been cut off, adding that that it is hard to verify some of the current videos that are floating around online.
We are well connected in all of the groups and the WhatsApp and so if anything comes it comes very quickly to us. I am very careful, though: there are old videos which are showing up on different pages and different forums.
Bhat said that he lost contact with his sources in the region on August 5. The few images from locals that have come out from Kashmir have been from those who managed to use the limited Internet in government offices, Bhat said. Residents have reportedly queued for hours to use phones for just a few minutes and contact loved ones.
The activist said that major media outlets can report from the region with satellite phones or by sending digital files physically back to Delhi to be broadcast. However, residents of Kashmir do not have the means to make their voices heard.
Absolutely Kashmiri voices are missing. They are all missing our identity. There is nothing in Indian and Pakistani media: that’s the way it is. It’s totally missing from any major platform. And social media, that’s the only way that we have.
It is not certain when the restrictions on internet and phone use will be lifted. Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik told Wednesday's Times of India that restriction of movement would be eased after India’s Independence Day on August 15. He said that communications would remain blocked to avoid ”giving an instrument to the enemy until things settle down" and that they would gradually restore service "in a week or 10 days".
India and Pakistan have been locked in dispute over Kashmir since 1947 when the region's then ruler, Maharajah Hari Singh, signed an agreement to join India as a semi-autonomous state.