New Delhi: Facing an unprecedented wave of student protests over last two weeks, Jammu and Kashmir government has banned popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Skype along with instant messaging services like WhatsApp and Snapchat for a month in “the interest of maintenance of public order.” 

“In the interest of maintenance of public order, the government hereby directs all internet service providers that any message or class of messages to or from a person or a class of persons relating to any subject or any pictorial content 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 issued by J&K Govt’s Home department on Wednesday said. 

The ban comes at a time when the state government has already banned 3G and 4G cellular internet in the restive region. 

b’J&K Chief Minister Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti along with BJP President Amit Shah | Source: PTI/File Photoxc2xa0′

According to the three-page order, the ban comes into force with “immediate effect” and any “violations of the order” will be “dealt” with “relevant provisions of the law.” In total, the ban order enlists 22 social media platforms and messaging services including least known applications like Xanga and Snapfish. It also includes popular video-sharing website YouTube. 

While the internet ban in Kashmir valley is not rare, it’s perhaps for the first time that the government has ordered a blanket ban on social media. As soon as the ban was announced, Kashmiri netizens expressed outrage over the government’s decision, which according to them, is an example of establishment’s deliberate attempt to shy away from the reality on ground.  

“The social media ban in Kashmir is an exercise in frustration and denial. The government doesn’t want to acknowledge that it has failed to suppress Kashmiri demand for Azadi because the demand for Azadi exists irrespective of Facebook, Twitter or other social media platform,” Irfan Mehraj, who works as a researcher at Srinagar-based human rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, told ScoopWhoop News.

According to Mehraj, the government’s aim behind the ban is to stop the flow of information of the human rights abuses committed by its forces in the region. However, Mehraj argues, the communication of the message may be delayed due to the internet ban but the message won’t be killed.  

b’hile the government was quick to shut down schools for several days, the tension is palpable as the student protests have refused to die down | Source: Reuters/File Photoxc2xa0′

“…what the state wants to do and perhaps is only interested in doing is to contain and forbid the image of its suppression and oppression to go out in the wider world. It wants to control the flow of images from Kashmir but what it doesn’t realize is that pictures from Kashmir will still be shared once the ban is over,” he said. 

As an example, Mehraj cited the viral video of a Kashmiri civilian who was used as a human shield by the Indian army in Budgam district on the day of parliamentary polls. 

“The video was taken on April 9 – when the internet was barred all across the valley. Once the internet was restored, thousands of people shared the video and it became a hot topic,” he added. 

The Wednesday’s ban order is one of the many clampdowns announced by the state government since April 15 when 54 students of Government Degree College Pulwama were injured in clashes between students and government forces. The protests erupted after students opposed the installation of a police checkpoint outside the campus. 

Since then, Kashmiri colleges and schools have become islands of rebellion, with teenagers, including young girls, pelting stones on police and CRPF men. While the government was quick to shut down schools for several days, the tension is palpable as the student protests have refused to die down. 

b’Farooq Ahmad Dar who was used as a human shield by army inn Budgam | Source: YouTube Video Screenshotxc2xa0′

On Wednesday, as the news of ban began pouring in, many Kashmiri netizens posted “last” messages on their Facebook and Twitter accounts before the ban would come into force. Many also shared their email-ids and phone numbers, asking their friends to be in touch through alternative means. 

The netizens also trashed the government’s claims that the ban would prevent the flow of rumours in the region where peace remains fragile.

“Banning social media on the pretext of rumor mongering is a lame excuse. Facts suggest that rumours have spread the most in absence of proper communication systems – for example, during 2014 floods when there was no way to confirm rumors,” 24-year-old Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa, a Srinagar-based journalist, told ScoopWhoop News.

Kawoosa, who’s the founder of news and analysis website JandK Now, termed the government’s logic of banning social media for ‘maintaining public order’ as “baseless”. 

“Last year’s agitation didn’t de-escalate even though the state suspended both internet and tele-communication services. People protest against atrocities and news media informs people about it. Social media just makes the news reach people faster and banning it may just delay peoples’ response, but surely won’t alleviate it,” he stressed. 

b’Catridges of tear gas shells fired by police inside Pulwama college on April 15 | Source: Twitter/Kashmir Students Unionxc2xa0′

Kawoosa also said the ban would affect prospects of many Kashmiri entrepreneurs who use social media for marketing their products and services. 

“…some even take orders on social media; and they will surely suffer a loss until they establish another market place,” he added. 

The widespread ban is also likely to take toll on the academic activities of students from the valley, who rely on social media for exchanging ideas and information. 

Like in the case of Mehraj Din, a Senior Research Fellow of Islamic Studies at Kashmir University. 

“I am supposed to face a Skype interview to attend one month summer school in Istanbul, Turkey. Democratic process of engagement,” posted Mehraj Din on his Facebook profile after the news of ban was announced. 

Feature image source: PTI/ScoopWhoop