Within a month of banning mobile internet services and cell phone connectivity in Kashmir, the Mehbooba Mufti-led BJP-PDP coalition government banned broadband internet services in the valley right before the Independence Day celebrations. This had a crippling effect on local newspapers.

“We are literally into bandwith begging. We haven’t been able to perform our duties and provide information to the besieged people in the valley. The restrictions have already halted the physical distribution of newspaper to the readers. Internet was the only link to reach people,” Masood Hussain, a senior journalist and editor of a prominent weekly news magazine Kashmir Life told ScoopWhoop News over phone from Srinagar.While the valley populace widely relies on mobile internet services to connect to the virtual world, the ban on broadband internet services has snapped the only remaining connecting link of the valley with the outside world. 

b’Editors and journalists from valley protesting against the media gag by the government in July | Source: Reuters’

While accepting that they had banned broadband internet prior to the Independence Day celebrations in the valley, officials from the state government clarified that the ban is no longer in place. 

“The ban is only on mobile phone internet. Broadband internet is functioning properly. There was ban before the Independence Day for sometime. If there are certain places where broadband is not working we’ll sort it out immediately,” Director Information and Public Relations, Kashmir, Dr. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary told ScoopWhoop News. 

He also said that the government on Wednesday issued directions for restoration of broadband services in the areas where it’s not working.

On Tuesday, Kashmir Life’s Facebook page put up a telling post signifying the outlet’s efforts to keep its readers informed.  

Broadband internet service was stopped from Saturday evening. While the unprecedented move has led to a complete news blackout from the valley, the broadband internet started working in few pockets of the city like Batamaloo, Sonwar and Bemina. “These areas are where the most of the state’s administrative offices and houses of politicians are located,” a senior journalist from valley said.  

This is the second time in the last two months that a government decision has crippled the functioning of newspapers in the valley.  On the nights of July 15 and 16, police had raided several newspapers offices and seized copies of newspapers. During the raid, J&K police officials had also forcibly shutdown two printing presses. 

b’A cartoon by a Kashmiri artist depicting internet ban in the valley | Source: Mir Suhail Qadri’

While most media houses in Srinagar are concentrated around the central Lal Chowk, some offices  are spread across the city. 

“We are not operating from our own office. We have been constantly shuttling from place to place in search of a working internet connection just for a few seconds,” Hussain said.   

One of the valley’s top English dailies, Rising Kashmir, called the recent ban as a step towards the government’s goal of “media black out.” 

In a strongly-worded editorial on Wednesday, the newspaper lamented the failure of valley’s political leadership to take decisions and ineptness of the “powerless” government in the “police state.”

“After a group of editors met the Director Information on August 16 and urged him to get the connections unblocked to facilitate the publication of newspapers, they were assured that it would be resolved by evening. We were given to understand that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who holds the portfolio of Information had given clear instructions to restore the internet to media houses but the police refused to implement the orders. This not only makes it evident that some crucial decisions are taken at a particular level, not necessarily at the level of political leadership which in that case is kept in dark.”

b’Representational Image | Source: Reuters’

The internet ban has also cut off journalists on the field from their offices. Reporters working for various newspapers have failed to send stories to the desk. Many have lost contact with the offices altogether owing to the ban on mobile phone services. Only working phones in the valley are rare-to-find BSNL landlines and BSNL post-paid mobile connections.  

“I haven’t sent a story to office since last four days. I have a broadband connection but it’s not working. Yesterday, a civilian was killed in Army firing in Anantnag, I had to literally dictate that story to my colleagues in our  Srinagar office,” Khalid Gul, South Kashmir correspondent of valley’s leading English daily Greater Kashmir told ScoopWhoop News.   

“Even if I work on a story, it’s useless because I can’t send it to office,” he added. 

Five civilians were killed on Tuesday in two separate incidents in Central and South Kashmir after CRPF and Army fired on protesters raising the death toll to 65. Thousands of civilians have been injured in police and CRPF firing following the eruption of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. On Wednesday, curfew was once again clamped across Kashmir valley to prevent a protest march called by separatist leaders. 

Feature image source: ScoopWhoop