SRINAGAR: Limited mobile data services and internet will be temporarily restored in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK) from Saturday, ending nearly a six month communications lockdown after Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew the Muslim majority region’s autonomy.
Access will be limited to about 300 “whitelisted” websites and internet speed would remain low, the local Jammu and Kashmir government said in a notice late on Friday. However, social media applications that allow “peer to peer” communication will continue to be banned, it said. The decision will be reviewed on Jan. 31, the notice added.
The move to restore the services comes days after India’s top court ordered the curbs to be reversed, saying that freedom of internet access is a fundamental right and that its indefinite suspension is illegal.
Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has frequently used internet shutdowns as a tool to quell dissent in troubled parts of the country. It has argued that the blackout was needed to maintain order in the Himalayan region where security forces have been fighting a long-running separatist insurgency encouraged by neighbouring Pakistan.
The internet lockdown in Indian Occupied (IOK) region since Aug. 5 has severely disrupted the lives of millions, impacting everything from college admissions to bank payments and businesses filing tax returns.
Access will temporarily be allowed to websites of banks like State Bank of India and HDFC, education institutions, news, entertainment sites including Amazon Prime, travel, utilities and food delivery apps like Swiggy and Zomato as well as email and search engines including Google and Yahoo.
While the local government restored limited internet in some parts of the region earlier in January, some people are still struggling to get online.
Nasir Nabi, a student from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, where some services were restored, is pursuing a masters degree through a distance learning course and has been unable to access the university’s website. Because of the slow internet speed, the 23-year-old has not been able to download the study material or get information about any examinations.
Shameem Ahmad, a shopkeeper from the same region, said he has found it difficult to complete bank transactions as the internet speed is very low and most of the times it fails to process the request.
The internet shutdown in IOK, which has been on for more than 150 days, is the longest such outage in any democracy, according to digital rights group Access Now.
Meanwhile, mobile phone data access was also restored, although it was limited to slower second-generation (2G) connections. “It´s good some internet access has been restored but it´s so slow I´m hardly able to access anything and social media is also off-limits,” Raashid Ahmad, a university student, said.
Azhar Hussain, a local businessman, also complained about the internet speed being “painfully slow”. India is the world leader in cutting internet services, activists say, and access was also temporarily suspended in other parts of the country during recent protests against a new citizenship law.
Since August freedom of movement in heavily-militarised Kashmir has been gradually restored as has cellphone coverage, but apart from at a handful of locations, there has been no regular internet access. This made life even harder for the region´s seven million inhabitants and hit the local economy hard.