In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Kashmir is without phone lines and mobile internet again. As security forces closed in on Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo on May 6, mobile internet services were snapped across Kashmir. Later in the day, all prepaid mobile connections as well as postpaid connections apart from BSNL were suspended.

The restrictions were imposed at a time when the Valley is still emerging from the communications blackout post August 5, when the Centre stripped Jammu and Kashmir of special status and split the former state into two Union Territories. Nine months after the move, the administration is yet to restore 4G mobile connectivity.

Police officials in the Valley said the suspension of phone lines were a temporary measure and connectivity was likely to be restored soon. But the restrictions have only added to the stress of the current health crisis. As of May 7, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Jammu and Kashmir was 793 and nine people had died from the infection. Days ago, all of the Valley and three districts of Jammu were declared a “red zone”, areas under the gravest threat from the virus and with the maximum restrictions.

As of now, only a handful of Valley residents, those with landlines, postpaid BSNL connections and broadband, still have connectivity. Many of them, especially those facing medical emergencies, took to social media to express their anger and frustration.

Medical emergencies

A doctor tweeted to say they had to turn away everyone who arrived for emergency surgeries. With phone lines down, they had no way of coordinating with operation theatre staff, she said, urging that essential service workers have alternative means of communication in such a crisis.

Another resident, a journalist, worried about his father, who suffers from aortic regurgitation, a condition where the aortic valve of the heart does not close tightly, allowing blood to flow in two directions. His father had complained of discomfort, the journalist said, and had tried to call several cardiologists but they were unreachable since none of them had BSNL numbers.

Cut off from family

Those living outside the Valley were anxious about reaching family there.

The pandemic was already “fading” people away, wrote one social media user, not being able to talk to family seemed to make them “vanish” altogether.

Some pointed out that the lockdown had already taken a toll on those with mental health problems. The communications blackout would only make it worse.

‘India and its democracy’

For many, still trying to cope with months of restrictions, the fresh curbs only sharpened anger against the government.