The Jammu and Kashmir government has directed service providers in the Valley to block 22 websites, including popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to contain the rising student unrest.
Firstpost had reported exclusively about the state government's plans of banning Facebook and WhatsApp on 18 April, purportedly to stop videos and pictures showing security forces allegedly committing atrocities from going viral.
Sources have said that chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was advised to block social media by the security agencies, including the Indian Army, in a unified command meeting that took place on Tuesday. The meeting was called to discuss rising violence and street protests that have rocked the Valley. The ban on the social networks will be implemented for a period of one month, or until further orders.
In an order issued by the state's home department headed by Mehbooba Mufti herself, all internet service providers have been asked to immediately suspend social networking sites in the Kashmir Valley for a period of one month or till further orders.
As per the directive, the sites that will be suspended include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, QQ, WeChat, Ozone, Tumblr, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reditt, Snapfish, YouTube (Upload), Vine, Xanga and Flickr.
The state government, which invoked Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, with Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, said that it has been observed that some elements are transmitting objectionable content to spread "disaffection" among the public at large, to create sentiment against the state administration and the security forces with a view to inciting them to commit various offences at a large scale, cause damage to life and property, and disturb peace and tranquility.
"It was also observed during law and order disturbances of 2016 in the Kashmir Valley that anti-national and subversive elements, inter-alia, extensively misused social media sites and instant messaging services for vitiating peace and instigating violence, which caused large scale damage to life and property," the order said.
Internet services in the Valley have been often cut to stop the mobilisation of people and spreading of rumours, and authorities have snapped the services 28 times over the past five years. In 2016, the government had blocked internet signal for five months.
"This is as bad as North Korea," Anjum Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar, wrote on her Facebook wall before it stopped working late on Wednesday evening.
The decision to block social networking sites has come under sharp criticism from every section of the society. Everyday Kashmiri citizens, students, and the Valley's business community have all reacted starkly to the ban, saying they've been left in the lurch because of this.
Muzaffar Sadiq, owner of a century-old handicraft shop, The Suffering Moses, on the Bund in Srinagar, told Firstpost that he would not only incur financial losses but also suffer a barrier that would come up between him and his customers. "After losses due to last year's uprising, we were hoping for good business this year. A few days ago, we started utilising Facebook and WhatsApp for business promotion, to connect with customers in Europe and North America, but this social media ban will affect us heavily," Sadiq told Firstpost outside his showroom.
A few metres from his shop, Mujtaba Rizvi, artist and owner of a popular café Goodfellas, said the internet is a major communication tool for promoting local businesses. The ban, he said, would impact the economy which was already suffering because of last year's attack. He said the business community was slowly recovering, but banning mobile internet and social media will undo the recovery.
"It is a communication problem, an economic problem, and a problem of freedom of expression. I don't think this is justified, nor will it do any good," Rizvi, a graduate from London's Goldsmith College, who returned to open a café in Srinagar, said.
"We have seen the internet being banned many times in the past as well, but that hasn't influenced the situation in Kashmir. Protests happen, people manage to somehow spread the message, and they congregate on the streets, so I don't know how this ban on social media will help the government," he added.
Students, who have been spearheading ongoing protests against the state government, say the ban is an attack on freedom of speech, which has been a causality since the conflict began in the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s.
"It's better if someone wants to vent anger on Facebook instead of throwing stones on the streets," Suhail Ahmad Khan, a student of SP College in Srinagar, said. "The government has an internet phobia. Every time something happens in Kashmir, it quickly bans internet, which worsens things on the ground."
Former chief minister and sitting MP from Srinagar constituency, Farooq Abdullah, said the ban will "play havoc" with the state's economy. Especially new start-ups in the e-commerce sector that depend primarily on internet accessibility and penetration will be impacted by the ban, he said.
"These are the same individuals who used to talk about providing all possible digital platforms and communication opportunities to the youth to help them in the pursuit of their career and entrepreneurial aspirations. But this government has resorted to tactics that are regressive, and are making it hard for our young businessmen and students to achieve their goals," Abdullah said.
This is the first time the state government has passed orders to curb a wave of protests against recent clashes between forces and students in a college in south Kashmir and other parts of the Valley. "The government may have their own interests in banning the internet, but at the ground level, we are suffering. You are banning social media now, but how will you keep in touch with friends and family? They are throwing us back into the Stone Age for our political belies," Khan added.
Updated Date: Apr 27, 2017 09:51 AM