How Long Will this Last? Indian Kashmir Gone Offline Since August

Dec 23, 2019 | AFP, GOV, India, NEWS

Kashmiri students wait for their turn to use the internet, with only around a dozen kiosks for the region’s seven million inhabitants

In remote Indian Kashmir people have been offline since August, queuing for hours to pay bills or using government "internet kiosks". As protests rage in other areas of India, it's something people outside the Himalayan region are also getting a taste of.

Indian authorities, who according to activists lead the world when it comes to cutting the internet, snapped Kashmir’s access when New Delhi scrapped the region’s seven-decade-old autonomy.

In the past two weeks of violent protests across India against a new citizenship law, mobile internet has been cut in swathes of the country and fixed-line access in places too.

In Kashmir, a security lock down imposed in August has been eased and some cellphones now work again. But hundreds of political leaders and others remain locked up — and there is no internet.

In the main city Srinagar, Mohammad Irfan waited in a long line inside a large hall run by a state-owned telecommunications firm.

Students use the internet at a tourist reception center. The Indian government cut Kashmir’s access to the internet when it scrapped the region’s autonomy in August

“I would (previously) do this in my spare time or even while walking (on my cellphone),” Irfan told AFP.

“But now I’m standing in this queue for about an hour each time to pay my phone bill.”

Flooded by complaints from businesses and people unable to do all the myriad things they used to online, authorities recently set up the internet kiosks. 

There are around a dozen of them for the region’s seven million inhabitants, and people can only use the computers, when they function, for 10 or 15 minutes.

With New Delhi saying it wants to avoid the net being used by militants — a deadly separatist insurgency has raged in Kashmir for decades — usage is also closely monitored.

People have to show their identity details and say exactly what they want to go online for, including what websites they intend to visit — and why.

Use of the internet is limited to a few minutes and users are not allowed to visit social  media sites

Visiting social media sites is not allowed.

Officials pace behind the terminals, watching the screens closely and telling people to move on when they’re done. Users suspect that every click is tracked by software too.

“I should be preparing for my exams at home,” said student Mubashir, who traveled more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) through snowy Kashmir to a kiosk in Srinagar.

“Instead, I am waiting here to obtain my registration card which is available only online.”

With internet access cut, Kashmiris must queue to buy airline tickets, pay bills and do their banking


Mobile phones were only restored in October, but only ones with a contract and only for calls, not for data. WhatsApp is even deleting some accounts due to inactivity.

Even civil servants need permission to use the internet for government business, and in a dedicated office.

Fixed-line cable internet services have been restored to a select group of businesses like luxury hotels and some IT businesses.

But they have to ensure only staff use it, and not for “social media or political activity” or to create wifi networks, the rules say. USB ports must also be disabled.

“We had to… agree to allow security forces to inspect our infrastructure anytime they want,” a software firm owner told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Authorities recently restored some incoming text message services, so users can get pass codes that are used widely in South Asia for online purchases and banking.