“Have you received the OTP?”
“This number is not working.”
“Check your email, has the password been sent?”
All they can say in an astonished tone is, “What? How come email will work when there is no internet?!”
Deep sighs, dropping voices, sad faces. Although I cannot see their faces but I can definitely sense and imagine the pain, restlessness and of course, the hopelessness in their voices. This is the story of my Kashmir and I am witness to all the emotional tales which I listen to everyday on the phone.
Sitting in a non-ventilated room in a congested Okhla flat in Delhi, my only two valuable possessions are a desktop and an android phone with internet with my earphone plugged in all the time. What is more special about these gadgets is that they sleep, eat, rest, walk and talk with me.
Every day, I receive hundreds of calls from friends, relatives and people who know me directly and indirectly from Kashmir. The only purpose I serve for them is that I solve their queries here. I have the luxury of the internet here, and back home they have nothing.
Kashmir is now in the sixth month of an internet blackout in and one can imagine the loss and suffering of people. The worst sufferers have been the students. Apart from this, the economy and business has been totally devastated.
On August 5, the government of India scrapped the special status of Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. With that, they also put a clamp down on the internet and mobile services, effectively locking up 80 million Kashmiris. The worst ever human curfew.
Earlier days were still okay because us Kashmiris are used to frequent internet shutdowns. But with more and more time lapsing and no hope of the internet restoring, it started taking a heavy toll on me both mentally and physically. As a journalist and as an aspiring JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) applicant, the internet was like oxygen for me. Without the internet, all of this was an extinct dream.
In the earlier days, I frequently used to search YouTube for lectures until I realize the popup would show no network and a lack of internet connection. With no more ringing of the phone, I used to convince myself that the value of multimedia gadgets has diminished. Since you are now back to the Stone Age, just chill.
Months passed, I became impassionate and restless. My mind was functioning more like a swinging pendulum. Scanning the calm and desert world through the windowpanes of my room, counting roof ceilings, and fidgeting with old things was all I was able to do.
Life came to a standstill all at once. Same was the story of every Kashmiri.
Outside our homes, on the roads, markets, streets, everything associated with it reflected a deserted look. The frustration and depression was visible on every aspiring student. Us Kashmiris were rendered as lifeless clocks, hanging on walls with paralysed needles having no direction and destiny.
With no connectivity with the rest of the world, the possibility of calling someone outside for help and assistance was a concept null and void.
I still remember the first phone call with my friend when postpaid calling services were finally restored in month of October. We talked in length about the communication blackout and shared our experiences and difficulties of being in a communication blackout.
He told me about the girl who had to fly all the way from Kashmir to Delhi for just an email to be delivered. It cost her ₹20,000. Imagine how much this costs in normal circumstances. 1 KB, maybe one paisa!
That very story shattered me and I began to question about my being, identity and all that is associated with me. I decided to move out. I packed my bags and landed in Delhi, but this time with a different purpose.
Having been here for more than two months, I am now satisfied that I somehow be of help to needy students in some way and it gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction that I try my best to get their work done.
Coming to the internet, government authorities have time and again defended the communication (especially internet) shutdown as a defensive measure against militant groups. But, Kashmiris, and for that matter, every intellectual person will not buy this narrative. It is just that they did not want the outside world to know what they are doing in Kashmir.
It is just a tactic to curb the dissent on part of the people. They fear that their atrocities on Kashmir will be visible to the world and debunk what has been the narrative of the government and most of their news channels that report on Kashmir from decades.
Here, it also puts the onus and questions the credibility of world organisations, powerful countries, champions of human rights, and the international community. Despite their huge claims and say on fundamental rights, they have all failed in safeguarding the interests of Kashmiris.