Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have banned Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp after the Indian government said social media services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements”. It is the first time the government has taken such a step, although it regularly blocks mobile internet signal in the Kashmir Valley.
Internet services were cut 28 times over the past five years, and in 2016 the Indian government blocked internet signal for five months. Wednesday’s block, a government order said was “in the interest of maintenance of public order”.
“The government hereby directs all internet service providers that any message … through the following social networking sites shall not be transmitted in Kashmir Valley with immediate effect for a period of one month or till further orders, whichever is earlier,” the order read.
The sites and apps which will be inaccessible also include Wechat; QQ; Qzone; Google Plus; Skype; Line; Pinterest; Snapchat; Youtube; Vine and Flickr. “[The ban] is to control the political space. The government is trying to control things in a military way which is not going to help,” Gull Mohammad Wani, a professor and political analyst, told the media. “The government is claiming it has taken this step to calm the situation down. In the absence of social media, rumours can be more dangerous as we have seen in past.”
Hundreds of student protesters have taken to the streets in recent weeks, many chanting anti-India slogans and throwing rocks at police. The students were angered by a raid earlier this month on a college in the southern district of Pulwama, in which police tried to detain the alleged ringleaders of earlier protests.
Authorities claim social media sites are being used to to rally support against the Indian occupation in Kashmir. Locals, including students, and businesses have been heavily affected by the block. “It [the internet block] adds insult to injury,” a university student told reporters.
“It gives birth to some kind of resentment inside, that we’re being subjected to continuous pressure and things that we don’t deserve.” Earlier this week, the leader of Jammu and Kashmir, the northern state that administers the area, held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the developing crisis.
Local rebel leaders had called for a boycott of the vote, which was held to fill a vacant seat after a member of parliament resigned to protest against the killing of civilians during a sweeping security crackdown last year.
Voter turnout was 6.5 percent in the by-election, 26 percent lower than in the last elections held in 2014 and the lowest ever participation recorded in any election in the disputed territory, according to Shantmanu, the state’s chief electoral officer.
“Eighty-five percent of my work depends on the internet,” Taha Mughal, an architect, said. “So all I’ve been doing is practically moving from one place to another on foot – the old-fashioned way – to do the 15 percent. It’s like I’m in the 1930s.”
Kashmir witnessed deadly protests after a well-known separatist commander Burhan Wani was killed last year. The violence has killed at least 84 civilians and wounded more than 12,000 civilians and security force personnel.
Neighbours India and Pakistan claim divided Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts. Two of the three wars they have fought since independence from Britain in 1947 have been over Kashmir.
Last September, tension escalated as armed men killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.India accuses Pakistan of backing separatist fighters in the Himalayan region, a charge Pakistan denies.
The article was first published here in Aljazeera.com