India-held Kashmir logs on to 'slow' internet after seven months

By: AFP      Published: 09:59 PM, 4 Mar, 2020
India-held Kashmir logs on to 'slow' internet after seven months

Authorities in Indian-held Kashmir restored access to the internet and social media on Wednesday, nearly seven months after New Delhi imposed limits when it revoked the semi-autonomous status of the disputed region.

Access however will be limited to slow, second generation 2G speed for mobile and fixed line subscribers across the region, home to nearly 14 million people, a government order read.

The order is valid for next two weeks, after which authorities said they will assess its impact on security in the violence-wracked region, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

"We have already started switching the service on," said an official at the state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the sole fixed line internet service provider across the region.

New Delhi unilaterally revoked the region's semi-autonomous status in August 2019 and imposed a total security and communication blackout, including shutting down fixed line, mobiles and internet services. Some of the restrictions were eased with the opening of voice services on landline phones in September, and slow speed internet over mobile devices in January.

But social media was banned across all platforms, and access was initially allowed to only 301 government approved "white listed" websites. The government said the ban was necessary to stop its misuse by armed anti-India militants and those stoking violence after the controversial decision.

Service providers were also asked to install firewalls to block access to social media sites, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to stop subscribers from bypassing the restrictions. The internet ban inflicted huge losses to the local economy and led to the loss of over 150,000 jobs, mostly in the tourism sector, according to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Several Western countries had criticised New Delhi for the sweeping internet ban, which activists say is the longest in a democracy. Within an hour of lifting the ban social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with Kashmiri users posting messages of relief, and Whatsapp messaging service came alive again.

"After 7 months, we are glad to connect with you online," a women's legal help group, Kashmir Women's Collective, wrote on Twitter. "Our work on ground never stopped. We faced multiple challenges but our drive our courage from women who even in these hard times reached out to us, sharing with us the warmth and strength."

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