On 5th August 2019, the BJP government announced Abrogation of article 370 and article 35 A, that changed the status of Jammu & Kashmir, by changing its stature to a Union territory. Ladakh was declared a separate Union Territory too.
It was claimed that this move would potentially reduce cross border terrorism. The aftermath was cruelly interesting. The entire nation; to be precise, those who do not belong to J & K, and those, on whom, this law had no bearing, rejoiced. The reasons were as weird as occupying land, and being able to marry Kashmiri women!
PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah earned so much praise; possibly more than any national leaders in recent times. But, nobody gave a thought to what must have happened to those who were actually impacted by the government’s announcement.
Overnight, they were put in a state of emergency, through the deployment of armed forces and cutting down of all possible media communication. Family members and friends of Kashmiris, who have been living in different parts of the country, became anxious, as they were completely disconnected from their loved ones.
Shops, schools offices, hospitals everything remained closed. The situation of complete lockdown has been absolutely terrible and is considered the longest ever internet ban in any democracy. The authorities, however, indicated that the extended ban was put in place to avoid disruptions of any kind, including activity by militant groups.
India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in an interview, asked, “How do I cut off communications between the terrorists and their masters on the one hand but keep the Internet open for other people?”.
It has been 156 days and counting. Things are still on shut down. From nominal bank transactions to other online processes, everything has been disrupted.
The journalism fraternity of Kashmir finally has come forward to request the authorities to lift this prolonged ban on internet services, and collectively held an interactive session ‘cyber curfew’.
Several Kashmiri journalists, editors, and photojournalists shared challenges they faced while working without internet, over the past five months. This was followed by a peaceful sit-in protest, inside the press club premises. During the protests, members of different media organisations and representing leading journalist bodies of the Valley, urged the authorities to restore internet services, so that they can properly discharge their professional duties.
One of the journalists, Shafat Farooq, who participated in the protest, complained that many media houses have accepted the government’s restrictions, and as a result, several journalists had either lost their jobs or suffered salary cuts.
Another journalist, Shahnawaz Khan, stated “When asked to bend, Kashmir’s press didn’t even crawl; it went down on its knees. We could have simply closed down the newspapers,”. “Collectively we have failed and even if the internet is restored now, what difference will the Kashmir press make now?”
Further to that, journalist and editor of Kashmir Images Bashir Manzar said, “We aren’t able to communicate with our sources and freely gather information. We demand the internet be restored.”
One can only hope that the government will immediately respond to this request so that everything could be settled on time and people can get over all the inconvenience that they have faced so far.