The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent human rights organization, revealed in its latest report that over 500,000 youth have lost their jobs due to the “digital apartheid” imposed by the Indian government since last August, following the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. As per the report, the communication blackout in the region has been imposed “as a collective punishment without even a pretext of a precipitating offense.”
Titled Kashmir Internet Siege, the 125-page report was released by the JKCCS on August 25.
It claims that “The consequences of the shutdown of August 2019 were severe, and losses suffered by various businesses during the first five months alone were estimated at INR 178.78 billion, with more than 500,000 people having lost their jobs in the valley in the period.”
The internet ban was introduced to curb mass protests in the region after the reading down of Article 370 by the Indian parliament, which had accorded special status to the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. After it was scrapped on August 5, 2019, all communication in the region was snapped for a month. Though landline and mobile phone connections were partially restored later, “internet data speed continues to remain throttled on mobile connections ” even now.
The report says that the “multi-faceted and targeted denial of digital rights is a systemic form of discrimination, digital repression and collective punishment of the region’s residents, particularly in light of India’s long history of political repression and atrocities.”
While activists and international organizations have been consistently campaigning for the restoration of internet connectivity in the region, the authorities continue “to justify the throttling of internet speeds on grounds of national sovereignty, dismissing the concerns of international and Indian civil society actors.”
According to the JKCCS, the Indian government currently leads the world in ordering internet shutdowns. Jammu and Kashmir accounts for more than two-thirds of Indian shutdowns, both in terms of frequency and duration.
“There have been 226 documented internet shutdowns in Jammu & Kashmir since the year 2012. Currently, even the 2G internet access available to Kashmiris remains extremely precarious as localized shutdowns of the internet, often accompanied by mobile phone disruptions, remain commonplace, sometimes lasting for a week. There have been 70 separate shutdowns in 2020,” the report adds.
Besides the loss to the economy and the rising unemployment and mental health crisis, the authorities have detained over 6,000 people, excluding the 600 ‘administrative detentions’ that took place around August 5 last year. “Of habeas corpus petitions filed for the release of illegal detainees during the period, 99% remain pending,” the report claims.
JKCCS stated that its report is based on media reports, field work, and government and court documents. It maps the impact of the blackout on the overall livelihood, education, health, and mental health situation in the region.
Misbah Reshi, one of the researchers who compiled the report, said that the research team began working on the report this January. However, following the COVID-19 lockdown, “Amid the low speed internet, reaching out to researchers on the ground was a serious issue,” Reshi said.
The report has been divided into five parts based on the main areas which were severely affected by the year-long internet shutdown, including the impact on livelihood, access to justice, education and health, and social life.
The dense military-intelligence and counter-insurgency grid which enables multiple security agencies to engage in covert monitoring and interception operations in the Kashmir valley, with little to no oversight, public information or transparency, has led to internet shutdowns becoming a “routine law enforcement mechanism,” as per the report.
While the longstanding communication blockade has gagged the voices of people of Jammu and Kashmir, the report stresses that it should not prevent the international community from speaking up and calling out the government of India for suppressing the fundamental rights of people.
The report can be found here.