India restores 4G internet services in two districts of Kashmir

High-speed internet was suspended last August, when India revoked the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy.

In this photo taken on December 3, 2019, Kashmiri students use the internet at a Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in Srinagar, as internet facilities have been suspended across the region as part of a p
Kashmir was without internet for 213 days - the longest shutdown in a democracy - until it was restored on March 4 [File: Parvaiz Bukhari/AFP]

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have ordered the restoration of high-speed 4G internet services in two of the disputed Himalayan region’s 20 districts on a “trial basis” from Sunday night, more than a year after they were suspended.

“The high-speed mobile data services in the districts of Ganderbal and Udhampur shall be restored forthwith, on a trial basis,” a government statement said on Sunday, adding that internet speed would continue to be restricted in other districts.

Udhampur, in Hindu-majority Jammu region, and Gerderbal, in Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, have a combined population of 850,000 out of the disputed region’s total population of about 12 million.

The “trial” will last until September 8, and high-speed internet will be available on postpaid mobile phones only, according to the government order.

“I will update my phones. This is the first thing I intend to do once it is restored,” Sheikh Anees, a journalist based in Ganderbal, told Anadolu news agency.

Internet suspended last August

The internet had been cut off since last August, when India revoked the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, divided it into two federally ruled territories and imposed a complete lockdown and communications blackout.

Kashmir was without internet for 213 days – the longest shutdown in a democracy – until it was restored on March 4.

India has shut down the internet more times than any other country in recent years, with more than 100 shutdowns reported last year, according to the Internet Shutdown Tracker.

Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly urged India to restore full internet access in the disputed region, with the calls gaining steam amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the Supreme Court said an indefinite shutdown of the internet in the Muslim-majority region was illegal, asking the government to form a committee to consider the restoration of high-speed services.

The order comes after the committee, headed by the central home secretary, recommended “calibrated easing of internet restrictions in comparatively less sensitive geographical areas.”

Mobile internet services were restored in January after the top court stepped in. However, only government-authorised “whitelisted” websites were accessible. Restrictions on social media remained in force until March 4.

Authorities had said the security situation was not conducive to restoring mobile internet access.

Anti-India sentiment runs high in the Muslim-majority region, where armed groups have been fighting for independence or unification with neighbouring Pakistan.

More than 50,000 civilians have been killed since the armed rebellion erupted in 1989. India has been accused of human rights violations against the rebels and the people of Kashmir.

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies