In the summer of 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir government banned the Short Message Service (SMS) in the Kashmir Valley after several people were killed by the government forces during the month long mass protests that had erupted throughout June of that fateful year.
The state government was of the view that the SMS service was being misused to spread rumours and contributed to the protests, which led to the banning of the service. However, the stopping of the “spreading of rumours” by banning the service, which in the eyes of the state government encouraged people to come out on the streets in protest and get killed, didn’t work out the way the government had hoped it would. Massive protests continued against the Indian state all across the valley. More than 120 civilians, mostly teenagers, were killed.
“Media is a tenet of democracy. However, India seems to be the biggest ‘hypocritical democracy’ when it comes to Kashmir, as its practices are antithetical to its international claims,” said Mehboob Makhdoomi, Dean, SSM College Srinagar on the obvious denial of democracy to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
At some point, there could have been miscreants who spread rumours through SMS that raised questions on the state claims of peace and normalcy. These claims have been so fragile – so fragile that a few boisterous pieces of faux information sent through the air could shatter it this easily? Or was it a deliberate attempt to withhold the “right to information” of the people by the state to alienate them from knowing what was going around them in a place where state censorship on media is vividly clear?
“In specific, Kashmir’s persistent SMS ban, in twenty first century, even after having two peaceful years of 2011 and 2012, manifests its insecurity here and speaks volumes about their stand on the aspirations of Kashmiri people. I would be the first person to label this ban as ‘Technological Terrorism’ by the state,” Makhdoomi further stated.
Two years after the ban was imposed the service has still not been restored. Recently, the outgoing Director General of Police of Jammu and Kashmir, Kuldeep Khuda in a statement given to the media said, “Militancy is in its last stage in the valley”. But ban on means of expression and communication such as the SMS have not been revoked. Militancy has been declining, as per the state analysis, but a mere service of cellular phone users is absent in the state.
Shayaq, a Kashmiri businessman, who often travels abroad says, “It sometimes gets so difficult to maintain contact with our clients when they send me messages but I don’t receive any. When we tell them about the ban, they seem astonished.” So is the case with the roaming service as he adds, “If roaming on prepaid is not banned in any other Indian state what is so different about Kashmir? It makes you feel you are entering into a different country.”
The bar on these services has disrupted the lives of more than a quarter of million mobile phone users. This ban is yet another logistical inconvenience for the people who have been long harrowed by military occupation. The simple act of texting, which is taken for granted in modern life being suddenly banned is almost strangulating for people struggling to maintain some vestige of normalcy in their lives. It is symbolic of the routine way in which military occupation is obstructing daily life in the region. The ban on these services is a direct “technological blockade” on the people of Kashmir by the state government. How can one hope for peace and normalcy when such restraints do not even allow the leading of a normal life for the Kashmiri population?