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Internet services restored in Srinagar after 12-hour shutdown

Here’s how the shutdown disrupted the lives of locals in the region.

Internet services were restored in Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar city and its neighbourhood on May 26 following roughly 12 hours of suspension which began the previous evening. The shutdown was ordered amid violence that erupted just after an NIA court passed a life sentence to separatist leader Yasin Malik, IANS reported. MediaNama also independently verified the matter from several locals and the police.

“Mobile internet connection were suspended only in the Maisuma area, not all of Srinagar. It was however heavily slowed down across the city at around 4 pm yesterday in response to mob attacks,” said Superintendent of Srinagar Police’s cyber cell Sandeep Choudhary. He did not share a copy of the shutdown order but said that only mobile internet services had been affected and that anyone using fixed cable or landline broadband network was not affected.

However, according to locals, mobile internet was completely snapped not only in parts of Srinagar but also in other locales such as Kupwara and Anantnag in southern Kashmir.

Why it matters: For the past three years, India has been leading the world in the number of internet shutdowns. Kashmir has become the biggest casualty, suffering 400 internet shutdowns since the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status in 2019 which has led to dozens of protests. It has even reached a point where government authorities are imposing shutdowns at the first sight of disturbance.

What led to the internet shutdown?

Protesters had assembled at the residence of Yasin Malik in Maisuma, Srinagar on Wednesday afternoon in the hours leading up to the verdict. As soon as the NIA court in Delhi announced his life sentence, protesters raised pro-Malik and pro-freedom slogans with many clashing with the security forces. Police used smoke shells to disperse the crowd. The internet blackout was declared soon after, according to the news agency.

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During the internet shutdown, the police conducted a spree of late-night raids in various towns and villages adjacent to the city, NDTV reported. So far, the police have arrested ten people in Srinagar under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for raising slogans and stone-pelting. The cops have said that more accused are being identified and will be arrested soon. They have also clarified that the city was not under any curfew for the time being.

The connections were restored in some regions before dawn, while other places had to wait till the morning of May 26 for working internet.

How have the locals been affected?

“Internet was suspended in main Anantnag market before the court had sentenced the Yasin Malik (before 6PM), it created a problem as most of the people use online banking. However in the other parts of Anantnag it was suspended after the court sentenced the convict. Till the morning of today, it remained suspended.” — Suhaib ul Islam, student from Anantnag.

The city of Anantnag (over 50 kilometres south of Srinagar) and Kupwara (85 kilometers north from the capital) were amongst the areas affected by the internet shutdown.

Irshad Ahmad Lone, who runs a wholesale business in the Anantnag market, said that he had no idea of the shutdown and had two dozen frozen UPI and internet banking transactions from customers. Lone’s sentiments were echoed by Shariq Hussain, an entrepreneur from Srinagar.

Zayd Kirmani, a student from Kupwara, was giving an online exam when the authorities snapped the internet in his town. “I was already done with three-fourths of the paper when it happened. When the net went, I was helpless. I called my college authorities but they called me a liar on my face. It is only after I forwarded them with news reports that they believed me,” he said.

Internet shutdowns in Kashmir

With 399 internet shutdowns in the past decade, Jammu and Kashmir is the most blacked-out region in India. In the 2021 Access Now report, it figured in first place with 85 documented shutdowns resulting in 551 days without internet. The report further said that the Indian government is one among 22 countries that had even cut off access to VPNs.

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A year without internet access had crippled local e-commerce, brought online classes to a grinding halt, and adversely impacted the medical sector resulting in a complete breakdown of inter-hospital referral and doctor-patient communication systems.

Legal provisions of internet shutdowns

The Telecom Services (Public Emergency Safety Rules) 2017 provide the Union government with the power to call for a temporary shutdown of telecom services in a region on grounds of public emergency for up to 15 days at once.

  • Placed before a review committee within 24 hours of the order’s passage
  • The review committee for the state government has to have the Chief Secretary as its Chairman, and as members: Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs; Secretary to the State Government (other than the Home Secretary).
  • Scrutinised by a review committee within 5 days of such an order being passed and they have to and record their findings on whether the directions issued under the rules are in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Telegraph Act (which allows for interception of communication in interest of public safety, sovereignty of state, etc.)
  • Needs to be sent to the designated officers of the telecom authority or of the TSPs.

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