India has announced that the media blackout that suspended all internet services throughout Kashmir and Jammu on 4 August 2019 will finally be partially eased. The media shutdown, according to the BBC, is the longest blackout recorded in any democracy, and despite recent slight easing, the communication restrictions still remain largely in place.
The blackout was deemed essential by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in August last year following his use of the presidential decree to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution of India which granted Kashmir its own constitution. Kashmir and Jammu, which were previously part of the larger region of Kashmir, were divided into two union territories following the passing of the ‘Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act’ of October 2019. The blackout was declared following rising tensions and protests within Kashmir for self-determination, ensuring that the Indian government’s violent reactions remained hidden.
On 18 January the Supreme Court announced that they would revise the restrictions placed on Kashmir as the higher court stated that the “suspension of free movement, internet and basic freedoms” cannot be exercised in a democracy and is unconstitutional. However, the government has made clear that the ease will not restore all media connections and that messaging applications such as WhatsApp will not be reinstated. Social media connections will also not be restored, and internet lines will only be run in institutions for which internet is deemed necessary, such as hospitals and government workplaces.
Bans on mobile networks are not to be lifted and only a few “white-listed” sites will become accessible. The Hindustan Times reported that the government has decided that the easing of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley will only be granted in phases. Many foreign governments and the United Nations have condemned the prolonged blackout, urging India to review its media shutdown, with Human Rights Watch expressing concern that India is failing to protect Kashmiri human rights. The Indian government has attempted to justify the lockdown by claiming that it is essential in countering radical insurgencies and violence in the region. The region holds a Muslim-majority and tensions over self-determination in the region has lasted since the end of British colonialism in India and Pakistan. Regardless of very slight lifts on communication restrictions, hopes of a return to normalcy for the much-disputed region does not seem near. Although efforts to ease the communication restrictions are being made, there is still a long way to go to instil peace in Kashmir.