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Kashmir’s ‘Internet Express’: Helping Kashmiris access the internet during blackout

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Kashmir’s ‘Internet Express’: Helping Kashmiris access the internet during blackout

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Originally published by Reuters

Braving the snow and cold, Abrar Ahmad, 18, is one of thousands of Kashmiris who regularly spend hours journeying on a packed train just so that they can go online as the region grapples with the longest Internet blackout imposed by a democracy.

Stepping off the crammed train — dubbed the “Internet Express” by Indian Kashmiris — in the nearby town of Banihal, the passengers make a beeline for cafes where they pay up to 300 rupees ($4.20) for an hour’s broadband.
“I couldn’t have afforded to miss this opportunity,” Ahmad told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after filling out an online job application at a teeming Internet cafe, where dozens of others hit by the 162-day Internet shutdown queued behind him.

“There is no one else in my family to take care of my three younger siblings and me,” he said, adding that his father, a mason, lost his leg in a road accident last year.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been without broadband and mobile data services since Aug. 5 when India’s government revoked the special status of its only Muslim-majority state, splitting Jammu and Kashmir in two.
Despite a United Nations declaration in 2016 that the Internet is a human right, shutdowns have risen in recent years as governments from the Philippines to Yemen said they were necessary for public safety and national security.

Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it. Each rules parts of the scenic Himalayan region.
India said it cut communications to prevent unrest in Kashmir, where a separatist insurgency has killed more than 40,000 people since 1989.
The lockdown has cost Kashmir more than $2.4 billion since August, with sectors directly dependent on the Internet such as e-commerce and information technology worst hit, the region’s main trade organization said.
“Doing trade without the Internet is unimaginable in the present day world,” said Abdul Majeed Mir, vice president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which estimates nearly 500,000 jobs have been lost. “Irreversible damage has been caused to the economy.”

Kashmir’s Internet ban has impacted everything from relationships to access to health care, said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at global digital rights group Access Now.

In addition to introducing the democratic world’s longest Internet clampdown in Kashmir, Access Now said India also accounted for two-thirds of global shutdowns in 2018.

“Punishing an entire population on the basis of saying potential violence or terrorism might occur is extraordinary,” said Chima.

The home and information ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

At a noisy cybercafe in Banihal, Danish stepped out to catch his breath as people elbowed past to get on the web. Diesel generator fumes filled the cramped space to keep computers and laptops running during frequent power cuts.

“I felt suffocated inside,” said Danish, a Kashmir University scholar who declined to give his full name.

“This Internet gag is driving me crazy.”

But he prefers the lengthy trek to Banihal to trying to get online at one of the hundreds of Internet kiosks the government has set up in Kashmir, where demand hugely outstrips supply.

New Delhi said the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status was necessary to integrate it into the rest of India and spur development.
It has done anything but that, say locals.

Outside a courier company in Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, two delivery executives chatted idly by a bonfire, saying no Internet meant no packages.

“We are the only two who still come to the office. Some 50 boys have lost their jobs,” said Touseef Ahmad.

“If the Internet is not restored soon, I can lose my job.”

Keep up to date with more news at ProperGaanda: FM Qureshi to Iranian President: Pakistan will not join any war

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