The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, on Tuesday called the communications blockade in the Union Territory “digital apartheid” and a form of collective punishment unleashed by the Indian government on the people.
Presently, only 2G connectivity is permitted in most parts of the Kashmir Valley. On August 16, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had restored 4G services on a trial basis in Udhampur and Ganderbal till September 8.
“The ongoing internet siege enacts a ‘digital apartheid’, a form of systemic and pervasive discriminatory treatment and collective punishment,” the rights group said in a press release. “It is a violation of international human rights law as well as the laws of armed conflict. The siege is a means of political repression that serves as a deliberate means of severing social, economic and political connections between Kashmiris, while also isolating them from the world.”
The JKCCS said that the network disruptions and state control over access to the internet “disproportionately target essential civilian supplies and services, adversely impact human rights and preemptively silence all forms of online speech”.
It added that instead of ending this “digital siege”, recent Supreme Court judgements have brought about a new regime of mass surveillance, filtering and limitations on internet speed through executive orders. From January this year, no less than 17 such orders, extending restrictions on internet speed, have been passed, JKCCS said.
“Alongside routine extensions of internet restrictions, frequent complete suspensions of mobile internet connectivity through emergency police orders have also continued unabated,” the NGO said. “Since January 2020, when partial 2G internet connectivity was first restored, 70 such temporary suspension orders have been issued.”
JKCCS said it has published a report which highlights the consequences of the shutdown imposed on August 5 last year on the livelihoods of the people. India had abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution that day, and divided the state into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The JKCCS said its report shows how health indices have declined in Jammu and Kashmir, education has suffered a major setback with students not attending schools or colleges and press freedom and the right to freedom of expression, as well as social participation, have declined due to “online surveillance, profiling and criminal sanctions, with police complaints registered against working journalists and over 200 social media and VPN users”.
“This report is a missive addressed to the human rights and digital rights community about the breadth and forms of this collective punishment,” the NGO said. “It is also a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who refuse to be silenced.”
The JKCCS said the report is also addressed to the international community. “While the government of India may have succeeded in gagging the voices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with its longstanding communication blockade, this should not prevent the international community from speaking and calling out the government of India for suppressing the fundamental rights of people,” it said.