From doctors to engineering students, Kashmiris kicked off WhatsApp lament loss of patient data, access to online courses

  • On Wednesday, hundreds of Kashmiris disappeared from WhatsApp groups. Initially, no one had a clue why this was happening

  • The news came as a shock to citizens from the Valley who have not been able to use the internet for the past four months

  • WhatsApp has 400 million users in India. This country is the messaging service's largest market

On Wednesday, hundreds of Kashmiris disappeared from WhatsApp groups. Initially, no one had a clue why it was happening. Those outside Kashmir noticed that their relatives, friends and colleagues were leaving WhatsApp groups in droves. The news came as a shock to citizens from the Valley who have not been able to use the internet for the past four months.

 From doctors to engineering students, Kashmiris kicked off WhatsApp lament loss of patient data, access to online courses

Representational image. Reuters.

Dr Altaf Hussain, a child specialist from Kashmir, said the first thing that came into his mind was the difficulties he will face when he begins accessing the internet again. “This is quite unfair,” he said. “This is yet another humiliation for us.”

Dr Hussain added this would pose problems for hundreds of patients whose important data would be automatically deleted from WhatsApp. He said patients who send prescriptions and other important details through the messaging service won't be able to access those files. “It has only added to their miseries,” he said.

Dr Hussain, who was in touch with different doctors in the US and elsewhere around the world, said he feels insulted to know that he has been removed from the doctors' groups on WhatsApp.  “This is absolutely frustrating news,” he said. “Who will make them understand we were removed because we don't have internet?”

A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, clarified that those users who remain inactive for 120 days are automatically deactivated  from the social media service. Wednesday was the 120th day of internet being shut off in the Valley.  "WhatsApp accounts expire after 120 days of inactivity to maintain security and limit data retention," they wrote.

Suhail Ahmad, a 35-year-old academician from Srinagar, was also affected. In 2005, he was able to reconnect with his classmates via WhatsApp. “We got in touch through WhatsApp after 14 years,” he said. “It is an important tool to connect and communicate with friends and students. It's convenient for all of us.” He added that although there are other means of communication, WhatsApp allows a large number of people to remain connected. “I can feel the void that it's created,” he said. Ahmad, teaches mass communication, has been an educator for many years.  “We also notify students about assignments and different readings through WhatsApp groups. We've lost the archives,” he added.

WhatsApp has 400 million users in India. This country is the messaging service's largest market. Zuhaib Hilal, a 20-year-old student and businessman from Srinagar's Soura, said he lost the contacts of different marketing managers across the country, all of whom had sent him their details through WhatsApp. For Hilal, WhatsApp is the only feasible way to communicate. “I'd never hear the voice of the marketing managers,” he said. “We'd usually chat on WhatsApp.”

On Friday morning, Hilal received a call from a friend in Delhi asking why he had left the WhatsApp group. “At first, I was confused because I hadn't used the internet for four months. I only learnt later that the accounts of many Kashmiris were being deactivated and removed from WhatsApp groups.”

Just a day earlier, Hilal went to the deputy commissioner's office in Srinagar to try to access the internet, but was unable to do so. A few weeks ago, the government provided internet to government offices. Hilal said he'd got in touch with a company through WhatsApp which would send him the estimated bills of products that he would sell in Kashmir. “I lost that contact as well,” Hilal said ruefully.

On Wednesday night, when this news broke, Hilal had already booked a ticket to Delhi via Tourist Reception Centre in Kashmir just to access internet and get in touch with manufacturers. “I thought I'd save some important documents which companies had sent through WhatsApp, but what’s the point now when everything has been deleted?” he asked.

Saliq Parvaiz, a scholar from Kashmir, was equally disappointed when his friend informed him that his account has been removed. But Parvaiz said what hurt the most is knowing he'd been removed from an international group that teaches interested candidates different languages.

“I would learn Persian on the group. I wasn't able to access it these past few months, but what's even more disheartening is that I can't catch up on lessons,” Parvaiz said.

Students have also been affected. Andleeb Zohra, a 24-year-old engineering student from Islamic University of Kashmir, is preparing for her gate examination. She hasn't been able to access the internet since 5 August, the day the Central government scrapped special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

“There was a group with different teachers from all over country. They would ask questions regarding the gate examination, send test series and important reading material. Now, I won't be able to catch up on what they sent,” Zohra said. She said at least 40 other students were removed from the group.

Some affected permanently lose their account data, which includes pictures and videos. Many have not backed up their information. Journalists in the Valley have protested three times against the internet shutdown, and have been using a single room in Srinagar's Media Facilitation Centre to access the world wide web. Reporters have complained of having to wait hours in queue to send their photos or stories to their respective organisations or send it forward via pen drive.

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2019 18:13:38 IST