Kashmiris in different parts of India took to social media on Tuesday evening saying they were unable to contact their family and friends in the state, moments after tremors were felt in parts of North India because of an earthquake in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The India Meteorological Department said the epicentre of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake was in the Pakistan-India border region in Jammu and Kashmir at a depth of 40 km. Officials said at least 19 people were killed and around 300 injured in Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir Police chief Dilbagh Singh said there were no reports of damage in the state. However, it could not be independently verified as communication restrictions in the state since August 5 have made it difficult to contact people. The communication clampdown was imposed to quell resistance against the Union government’s move to abrogate the state’s special status.
“In 2005 an earthquake epicentered at Muzaffarabad caused heavy destruction in Uri,” activist Shehla Rashid tweeted. “One hopes that everything is okay this time. But we don’t know anything. People can’t even call ambulance, fire or police from their mobile phones. Communication is the cornerstone of disaster management.” Rashid also urged the central government to restore mobile networks in the Valley and said the restrictions were unjustified.
Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla raised concerns about Kashmiris caught in the disaster. “How will our fellow citizens call our brave security forces or call for help or for rescue, due to the communication clampdown?” he asked.
Journalist Aditya Menon also asked the government to restore communication networks in the region, saying local people should be allowed to call for help to report damage or injuries. Journalist Seema Chisti questioned why communication restrictions were not removed.
Several other social media users also expressed concern after failing to get in touch with their families and friend in the state. “For every Kashmiri living outside Kashmir, this earthquake brought great helplessness,” said Twitter user Tokeer Ahmed. “You pick up your phone promptly to call home, to see if your family is alright. You forget that for the past 51 days, you haven’t heard from your parents. May Allah be our companion.”
Another Twitter user, Asif Murly, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to remove the communication restrictions so that “people may know wherever their family members are alive or dead, can call ambulance” in case of injuries. Another user of the microblogging site called for restoration of communications for at least two to three days to curb panic.
Twitter user Shazia Bakshi, who is from Kashmir, wondered whether her family was safe. “I’ve been, for last two hours, trying like a person possessed to call my family and friends back home....to no avail,” she said.
“I can’t call my mother to ask her if she is fine,” tweeted Sana Fazili. “We have been put to the test of natural disasters in times of man-made disasters.”
While authorities have claimed that the restrictions are being gradually lifted, the Kashmir Press Club on Monday criticised the “unprecedented communication shutdown”. Since August 5, journalists have been able to access internet only at the government-run media centre in Srinagar.
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