Internet ban gnawing at deaf-mute in Kashmir
Ever since the internet was banned in the Kashmir valley, differently abled youngsters who use various social media platforms to communicate with their friends living in and outside the valley are some of the worst affected.
A few weeks ago, when people in Kashmir were freezing to the bone, differently abled Sofi Tajamul journeyed all the way to Punjab. Tajamul did not make the trip to escape the frosty weather conditions of the Valley with temperatures tumbling to minus 5 but to use the internet for a few hours.
It, however, took Tajamul a good six days to convince his father to allow him to embark on the arduous trip alone. A few hours before the central government unceremoniously read down the special provisions of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two federally controlled territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh on August 5 last year, all communication lines in the Valley were cut off. Although the postpaid mobile phones sprang back to life more than two months later, the internet continues to remain off-limits.
20-year-old Tajamul, a resident of idyllic Saloora village, located a few kilometres from central Kashmir's Ganderbal town, cannot speak or hear. He uses sign language to communicate with his family and friends.
"He was fed up to the back teeth with the protracted internet ban as he could hardly connect to any of his deaf-mute friends", said Tajamul's father Nazir Ahmad, a principal at a local higher secondary school.
Tajamul has recently completed an engineering diploma in Electronics and Communication( E&C) from a local government polytechnic college. He would use various social media platforms to communicate with his friends living in and outside the landlocked Valley.
"He would frequently make video calls to his friends and chat with them", Ahmad said, adding that the long-drawn-out internet gag has made him, and many like him, feel rather isolated.
Tajamul is hardly schooled in the art of sign language and has completed his education in various institutes in Kashmir. He would spend a great deal of time on the internet to learn the language but the internet blackout has also disrupted his learning process.
On January 10, the apex court asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration "to review all orders suspending internet services forthwith". The court ruled that “freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g)".
The administration on January 14 decided to restore broad internet in all government institutions. The ban, however, continued to remain in force for the general public. As soon as Tajamul reached Amritsar, he checked into the hotel and connected his phone to Wi-fi.
Within seconds he began receiving the messages at fairly good speed from his outstation friends. He responded to their messages and also made video calls to some of them.
"They felt so happy to see my face after so many months. Even we shed tears of joy," Tajamul wrote in response to a written question by this reporter.
Saleem Pathan(16), another deaf-mute boy from Bemina, Srinagar had started throwing tantrums after the August 5 move, as he too had not been able to communicate with his friends.
Pathan has learnt the sign language from an institute in Noida and, like Tajamul, would communicate with his friends via video calls.
"I am concerned about his psychological well-being. Sometimes he gets easily irritated and feels down in the dumps", says his brother, Jameel Pathan. Pathan, however, adds that his brother is excited after he came to know that authorities have started restoring the broadband internet, even if only in the institutions. "It has given him a glimmer of hope", says Pathan.
Similarly, the internet being removed has gotten Aquib Gul( 22), a resident of Panzath, Qazigund very down. He keeps insisting with his family that they should move out of the Valley of Kashmir so that he could use the internet and connect to his friends in Chandigarh and Delhi.
"Whenever he gets a clue that authorities are likely to restore the internet, he goes straight to a nearby kiosk and gets his smartphone recharged", says his journalist brother, Umaisar Gul. Many other deaf-mute persons interviewed for this article say that the internet ban has been gnawing at their minds and spirits.
Umar Ashraf Beig, general secretary All Jammu and Kashmir Association for the Deaf, has sought the immediate lifting of internet service in the Valley. The ban has entered its sixth month in the Valley, causing untold suffering and trouble to the local populace.