Mobile phone networks were restored in Indian Kashmir yesterday after a 72-day blackout, authorities said, but the internet remains off-limits to the region’s seven million-plus people.
India cut access to mobile networks in the restive Kashmir Valley in early August citing security concerns as it scrapped the region’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a lockdown.
The easing of restriction covers around four million post-paid mobile phone contracts, but only for calls and text messages. The internet is still unavailable both on cellphone and fixed line networks.
Landlines were restored previously, although residents say connections are erratic.
The stripping of Kashmir’s special status on August 5 also saw New Delhi send in tens of thousands of extra troops to what even before was one of the world’s most heavily militarised zones.
Several hundred Kashmiri politicians, activists, lawyers and others remain in custody, mostly without charge.
Several thousand ordinary Kashmiris were also detained, including children as young as nine, with protesters and security forces clashing at regular rallies. Most have since been released.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last month she was “deeply concerned” while Washington called for the “rapid” lifting of restrictions.
Mohammad Akbar, a businessman, told AFP in the main city Srinagar that he was pleased that mobile phones were working again, but had harsh words for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Mobile phones are a commercial service that we pay for, not a favour,” he said. “They slash our basic rights and then ease things as favours and call it normalcy.”
Having mobile phones “is something completely normal in most countries. But here in Kashmir it is a big deal”, said law student Mashouq.
“And it can be taken away at any time.”
Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since 1947 and has been the spark of two wars and numerous skirmishes -- most recently in February when they conducted tit-for-tat air strikes.
Tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have died since 1989 in an uprising against Indian rule that New Delhi blames on Islamabad.
New Delhi maintains that some restrictions in the region are still required to combat a decades-old insurgency against its rule, which it accuses Pakistan of fomenting. Islamabad denies this, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiri separatists.