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Gulf Today Report
Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir said on Friday they would restore high-speed web access in the region as the country ended an 18-month-long ban on high speed internet services on mobile devices in the state.
It brings to an end what rights groups have called one of the world's longest internet clampdowns, where opposition to New Delhi has surged after it revoked the region's autonomy.
New Delhi imposed a communications shutdown on August 5, 2019 in restive Kashmir to quell unrest after it revoked the region's semi-autonomy and brought it under direct rule, according to the Associated Press.
This photo shows soldiers patrolling a street of Indian-administered Kashmir. File photo
The order late on Friday lifted the ban on 4G mobile data services. However, the order issued by the region’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, asked police officials to “closely monitor the impact of lifting of restrictions.”
Authorities then issued fortnightly orders restricting mobile data speeds, with the latest rolling ban due to expire on Saturday.
A blanket internet ban, the longest in a democracy which rights activists dubbed as “digital apartheid” and “collective punishment,” came into effect on August 2019 when India stripped Kashmir of its statehood that gave its residents special rights in land ownership and jobs. The region was divided into two federally governed territories.
The move accompanied a security clampdown and total communications blackout that left hundreds of thousands jobless, impaired the already feeble health care system and paused the school and college education of millions. Months later, India gradually eased some of the restrictions, including partial internet connectivity.
In January last year, authorities allowed the Indian-controlled territory’s more than 12 million people to access government-approved websites over slow-speed connections.
Two months later, authorities revoked a ban on social media and restored full internet connectivity but not high speed internet. In August, 4G services were allowed in two out of the region’s 20 districts.
Officials have said the internet ban was aimed at heading off anti-India protests and attacks by rebels who have fought for decades for the region’s independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers another portion of Kashmir. Both countries claim the landlocked territory in its entirety.
Officials have also argued that such security measures were necessary to better integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development and stop threats from “anti-national elements” and Pakistan.
Many Kashmiris, however, view the move as part of the beginning of settler colonialism aimed at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
Digital rights activists have consistently denounced the internet restrictions and said they represented a new level of government control over information. They were also criticised by lawmakers in Europe and the US, who called on the government to end the curbs.
India often snaps mobile internet services in parts of the region as a tactic during counterinsurgency operations and anti-India protests.
According to the London-based digital privacy and research group Top10VPN, India ranked at the top in internet shutdowns in 2020.
The group in its January report said internet shutdowns in 2020 caused a loss of $4.01 billion globally and India was the most impacted while suffering a loss of $2.8 billion.
At a time when technology and Internet have become an important part of life, it is disturbing to note that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party
Several hours of shooting rocked the Pulwama district, south of Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, after officials said four soldiers, a policeman, three militants and a civilian were killed in the latest clash.
An army major was among the dead, along with three militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which claimed last week's attack, military and police officials said.
Six senior army men including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel were injured in the hours-long gun battle, a police official told AFP.
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