Kashmir Ground Report-8: Life without the Internet
Life has been badly hit due to the suspension of mobile and internet services, especially for the youth.
Abid, a class 10 student, spends a lot of time with his mobile phone. After returning from school, he spends most of the evening playing the online game 'PUBG', but after the mobile and internet services came to a standstill in Kashmir from August 5, he does not know what to do! Abid's family lives on one side of Dal Lake. The father has a houseboat, in which the family lives. Father Mohammad Bhai says, "He is depressed. Earlier his face used to be bright. He would not stay from the mobile for more than half an hour. It's been weeks now."
Abid wanders here and there, round the lake. In the evening, Gulzar arrives at Boulevard Road to chat with acquaintances,and eat corn. The only non-Kashmiri is a man selling golgappa. He is from Bihar and according to him, there was no money to take the entire family to Bihar, so he remained in Kashmir.
Abid has a lot of time on his hands. There is no school, no internet, no phones, nor any tourist in his father's houseboat.
The Dal Lake dividing Boat House and Boulevard Road (Photo- Dilip Khan)
According to Mohammed Bhai, "Earlier, when we used to ask him to bring flour, he would not even respond. He used to play PUBG all day long. Look at him now. I am so upset that this has happened!”
The internet suspension has affected every household, but the stories are different. Abid points to a group of four or five people fishing in the Dal lake. "These people are doing it to pass time." Some people are busy fishing in front of Ghat No. 2. Without much luck
Without the internet, life in the valley has slowed down. Nobody has any news about anyone. What happened in the next neighborhood, is known only two days later. Kashmir's 'communication blockade' is being discussed all over the world, but this fact is not known to first year student Sadiq Mir. Sadiq says, "The only channel for my information was the internet. I used to watch TV on it, tweet on it, Facebook on it and read the papers on it. Now it is not the same, so what do I know.... whether it is being discussed in America or in England?"
A group of youngsters fishing in the lake. (Photo- Dilip Khan)
Sadiq, who lives in Prechu area of Pulwama, says, "We have been transported to the era of the pigeon. There is no internet nor mobile and the post office is working. Do we tie a letter to the pigeon's feet and send it to each other?”
People's lives have been severely affected by the communications breakdown. A senior official of the Kashmir School Education Department believes that even though the internet is down, the mobile services should be started as soon as possible. He explains, "Until this starts, there will be no attendance in schools. Nobody will come to school."
But, Maqdoom, who is preparing for medical examinations in Baramulla, says, "If they don't turn on the Internet, how will we read? We used to practise solving papers on the internet every day. Now everything has stopped.” What do you do now? Maqdoom replies, "Now we play carrom. We call some friends home and play carrom."
Apart from the top officials of the government, there are only 7 computers equipped with internet in the entire Kashmir Valley, at which one of the government employees sits. There was a stampede among the journalists who came from all over the world to sit at the remaining 6 computers. Two of these are for women journalists. Many delegations of journalists have appealed to the government to at least give internet access to journalists, but that has not happened.
Four computers and a cloth-covered round table in the media centre (Photo- Dilip Khan)
In the media center, reporters sit around a round table covered with cloth. Getting internet on one's mobile is a big miracle in the valley.
The Wi-Fi password is changed every two-three hours in the media center. The journalist who already has the password, gives it to another. A journalist working for an European news agency quipped, "The internet is down, but the mobile battery lasts longer now."
A journalist associated with the local newspaper Kashmir Reader says, "I have left the phone on the shelf. When you want to know the time, you can see the clock.” There is no one in the valley who is not bothered by the shutdown of the mobile and internet. "One morning I was discussing some news with a source, when suddenly the alarm rang in the mobile. The source was never comfortable talking to me after that."
A young officer working at the post office in Sopore says, "Everything is closed." See, we are associated with a department whose job is to send information, but now we cannot even get our own information. Last, I went to the office on 14 August.” Shamim, who lives in Model Town, Sopore, and studies in Delhi, came home for Eid, and has been stranded here since then. Shamim says, "Suppose I want to watch Sacred Games on Netflix. I cannot do that now." Shameem is appalled. He asks, can the central government take the decision to shut down the internet for 20-25 days in the remaining parts of the country?
Mobile and Internet service has come to a standstill since 5 August in the valley (Photo- Reuters)
According to him, the central government never cared about the Kashmiris. "If anyone were to die of illness, or there is a fire a house, we cannot find out." On the night of 20 August, a fire broke out in Mohammed Shafi's house in Alunchi Bagh of Srinagar, but there was no way to send information to the fire department. The house was gutted.
The emergency number 101 is not working in the valley for three weeks. The fire department of Srinagar has a system of 10 landline phones to receive calls on 101, but that's of no great use. The administration has promised that this service will be activated soon, but it has not been done.
[Autotranslated from Hindi]