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How Hitches, Halts Hold Life Hostage in Kashmir Hinterland

How Hitches, Halts Hold Life Hostage in Kashmir Hinterland

A recent Uri military-op conducted amid suspended cellular network once again highlighted the life shadowed by the skirmishes and strife on the garrisoned side-line. 


On the intervening night of September 18 and 19, a battery of the Indian army got activated to counter an infiltration attempt in Uri’s Gohalan area. The breach occurred days after the Taliban takeover made many Indian commentators decry over the “resurrected launch-pads” in other Kashmir. Unlike earlier infiltration bids, the forces curtly resorted to cellular kill-switch and disconnected the Uri residents like Mushtaq from the rest of the world.

After waking up to suspended mobile and internet services, Mushtaq, a cab driver, went to the taxi stand to collect passengers. This is when he came to know that his fellow drivers, who had gone to Gohalan, had not returned yet. And the ones who wanted to take passengers there were not allowed to go in. “I was in fix,” the young cab driver says. “While shells are known to create panic runs here, but the suspension of communication services made us paranoid and speculative about some LoC misadventure.”

Even as the ‘clandestine’ cordon and search operations ended after three days, residents of militarised Uri aren’t new to these sudden military actions.

However, the locals say that the “UAE-mediated Indo-Pak ceasefire” earlier this year had given them some respite from the frontier fireworks and fierce fights. Even as the LoC guns have once again started firing, the recent “information blackhole” military action in Uri renewed the concerns for the locals who were seen running for their lives last year when shells rained down their residences.

But when the gags were freshly imposed in this northern fringe region of Kashmir lately, Aisha, a mother of a one-year-old, couldn’t take her son to Srinagar for a medical check-up.

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“I had to coordinate with my husband, a civil engineer posted in Sonamarg and meet him in Srinagar, to take our son to the doctor,” says Aisha. “But due to shutdown of mobile services, I couldn’t call my husband. I left my home, against my family’s wishes, reached Baramulla and called my husband from there.”

Her husband who was extremely worried asked her to come to Srinagar and stay there only until mobile service was restored.

A study titled ‘Understanding India’s Troubling Rise in Internet Shutdowns: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis’ conducted by Dutch political analyst Kris Ruijgrok sought to elaborate on the reasons behind such shutdowns.

The report said that in 2020, India witnessed 115 shutdowns while Yemen, the country with the second-highest frequency of shutdowns, saw only six.

In the face of these restrictions, the young and educated Kashmiris often find themselves in a quagmire.

Dawood, a college-goer from the Kamalkote area of Uri, had to fill forms for some universities, but, due to the recent internet shutdown, he missed the last date.

“This is for the first time mobile service was suspended because of infiltration,” he says. “The sheer suddenness of the move makes us believe that strings of our lives lie somewhere else.”

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Harbouring the same feelings, Iqra, a class seven student from Kamalkote, says that she had to deliver a speech at an event that was being organised at her computer learning institute.

She couldn’t go there due to the cellular communication shutdown. She had prepared “really hard” for the speech, she said with tears in her eyes.

In 2019, the Internet blackout conducted by India for 213 days in Kashmir was described as “the longest shutdown in a democracy”.

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A report titled ‘Kashmir’s Internet Siege’ published in August 2020 by the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) – a Srinagar-based rights group, terms India’s digital apartheid in Kashmir as “a form of systemic and pervasive discriminatory treatment and collective punishment.”

While the recent snapped cellular services made students relive the traumatic times they’ve been facing since August 5, 2019 — the day New Delhi stripped the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir of its semiautonomous status and pushed the region into communication crisis — cab drivers like Mushtaq once again found their survival ride coming to a screeching halt.

“Our misfortune is such that we can’t even question these moves,” Mushtaq says. “At the end of the day, everything is being done at the cost of civilians caught in the razor-wire.”

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