VPN use: Will they send entire J&K to jail?
Ever since the government restored a low speed internet service while keeping all social media platforms and most websites off-limits, people in the Valley have been scrambling to find VPNs to circumvent the ban. Now, the police has registered a case against some people defying the ban.
Turn it on, turn it off, scroll down to the bottom, hit the connect button...." this is what one hears when eavesdropping on the youth in the alleyways of Kashmir setting up their VPNs.
Ever since the government restored a low speed internet service while keeping all social media platforms and most websites off-limits, people in the Valley have been scrambling to find the Virtual Private Networks( VPNs) to circumvent the ban.
On Tuesday, however, the police registered a case against some people defying the ban by using the VPNs. "Taking serious note of misuse of social media, the cyber police station in Kashmir has registered a case against various social media users who defied government orders and misused social media platforms," a police statement said.
The police, in a tweet, also appealed to the people not to misuse the social media.The police directive came a day after a video of Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani was uploaded on the social media.
The authorities restored the internet (2G) last month after a gap of nearly six months. All communication lines were cut off by the government just a few hours before it unceremoniously took away the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and broke it up into two union territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh on August 5.
"They will have to register FIRs against people living in all 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir", says Javed Ahmad, a local resident. According to Ahmad everyone in the Valley including lawyers, journalists, academics and officers in both the civil and police administration use VPNs to skirt the firewall. "Will they send the entire Valley to jail?" he asks.
As government firewalls the old VPNs, the people in the Valley come up with either new ones or change the settings of existing apps.
After government eased the ban on the internet, it allowed access to only a select few websites which have been classified as whitelisted sites in a government order.
As the sites of most of the popular newspapers, academic journals and policy groups cannot be accessed, the research scholars in the Valley resort to VPNs to access online publications.
"I downloaded a few policy papers from internet by using a VPN, but it took very long," says a PhD research scholar of Kashmir University. He added that the thought of reprisal has been now gnawing his mind.
Many young scholars of Kashmir told Asiaville that their research work had been badly affected due to the long-drawn-out internet shutdown and some of them finally moved out of the Valley. "I am in Delhi for the sole purpose of using unrestricted internet. For the past six months, I did not know about the new developments taking place in my area of research," Arshad Ahmad, a young scholar from south Kashmir told this writer over the phone.
Some other university and college students said that they also accessed the websites through VPNs to read the needed study material.
It is not for the first time that authorities have blocked access to social media, internet sites and instant messaging applications like Whatsapp and Telegram in the Valley. In 2012, the government briefly barred Facebook and YouTube after some controversial video made it to the social media, spurring the former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti to take action
More than five years down the line, in April 2017, Mufti led PDP-BJP government issued an order, banning at least 22 social media sites for a month. The ban, according to government, was imposed to contain elements inimical to peace.
"At that time too people used VPNs to access the restricted social media platforms," said Mudasir Ahmad, a local resident.
Ahmad said that people are now used to such undemocratic moves by the government. “The internet suspension is not a new thing here. A mere rumour prompts authorities to shut the data services off.”
In Kashmir, the government has created a record of sorts by imposing the longest ever internet shut down. According to the Cellular Association Operators of India (COAI), the loss suffered by the state when service is snapped is Rs. 1.5 crore a day.