J&K Coalition of Civil Society Says Kashmir Internet Ban is ‘Digital Apatheid’

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A Kashmiri journalist holds a laptop during a protest against 100 days of Internet blockade in the region, in Srinagar on November 12, 2019. — File photo

Digital rights activists have consistently denounced the internet restrictions and some have called them “ far worse censorship than anywhere in the world.”

SRINAGAR — A prominent rights group in Jammu and Kashmir issued a report on Tuesday calling India’s communications blackout following the scrapping of the region’s semi-autonomy last year “collective punishment” and urged the international community to question New Delhi over what it called “digital apartheid.”

The Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society in its 125-page report described “harms, costs and consequences of the digital siege in Jammu-Kashmir from August 2019” when New Delhi stripped the region of its statehood and the semi-autonomy that gave its natives special rights over land ownership and jobs.

The move, which set off widespread anger, was accompanied by a security clampdown and communications blackout in the region that left hundreds of thousands jobless, impaired the already feeble healthcare system and paused the school and college education of millions.

“The multi-faceted and targeted denial of digital rights is a systemic form of discrimination, digital repression and collective punishment of the region’s residents, particularly in light of India’s long history of political repression and atrocities,” the report titled “Kashmir’s Internet Siege” said.

Indian officials have repeatedly said the internet ban was aimed at heading off anti-India protests and attacks by rebels who have fought for decades for the region’s independence or unification with Pakistan. Both countries claim the landlocked Himalayan region in its entirety.

Officials have also argued such security measures were necessary to better integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development and to stop threats from “anti-national elements” and Pakistan.

Many Kashmiris, however, view the move as the beginning of settler colonialism aimed at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region, a development that could increase the possibility of heightened conflict.

Although some of the communications restrictions have been removed and the internet on fixed lines has been restored, mobile internet speeds in most of the region remain painstakingly slow.

Digital rights activists have consistently denounced the internet restrictions and some have called them “ far worse censorship than anywhere in the world.”

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