Indian government ends Internet blackout in restive Kashmir

In this file photo, Kashmiri students use the internet at a Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in Srinagar on Dec. 3, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Indian government ends Internet blackout in restive Kashmir

  • Social media sites remain blocked, with only 301 government approved websites accessible
  • Indian- administered Kashmir’s 7 million inhabitants have been affected by web blackout since August last year

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities on Saturday restored Internet in Indian-administered Kashmir after a five-and-a half-month blackout but maintained a block on social media sites.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government imposed a communications blackout in early August when it stripped the portion of Kashmir it controls — the country’s only Muslim-majority region — of its partial autonomy.
India also imposed a curfew, sent in tens of thousands of extra troops and detained dozens of Kashmiri political leaders and others, many of whom remain in detention, drawing criticism abroad.
Internet access was restored Saturday but only to 301 government-approved websites that include international news publications and platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.
Mobile phone data access was also restored, although it was limited to slower second-generation (2G) connections.
“It’s good some Internet access has been restored but it’s so slow I’m hardly able to access anything and social media is also off-limits,” Raashid Ahmad, a university student, told AFP.
Azhar Hussain, a local businessman, also complained about the Internet speed being “painfully slow.”
India is the world leader in cutting Internet services, activists say, and access was also temporarily suspended in other parts of the country during recent protests against a new citizenship law.
Since August, freedom of movement in heavily-militarized Kashmir has been gradually restored as has cellphone coverage, but apart from at a handful of locations, there has been no regular Internet access.
This made life even harder for the region’s seven million inhabitants and hit the local economy hard.
Modi’s government said that the blackout was for security reasons, aimed at restricting the ability of armed militants — who it says are backed by arch-rival Pakistan — to communicate.
However, the Supreme Court criticized the government earlier this month for the move, calling it an “arbitrary exercise of power.”
The court also stated that having access to the Internet “is integral to an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947, and has been the spark of two wars and numerous flare-ups between the two nuclear-armed foes.
A bloody insurgency against Indian rule that has raged in the scenic Himalayan region for decades has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.


Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

Updated 28 February 2020

Prayers at fire-bombed mosques as India’s riot toll grows

  • 180 men prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the Tuesday unrest
  • The 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims left at least 38 dead and hundreds injured

NEW DELHI: Muslims in a northeastern neighborhood of India’s capital returned for weekly prayers at fire-bombed mosques on Friday, two days after a 72-hour clash between Hindus and Muslims that left at least 38 dead and hundreds injured.
Five days after they started, it was still unclear exactly what sparked the riots — the worst communal violence in New Delhi in decades — and the death toll at hospitals was continuing to rise.
“If they burn our mosques, we will rebuild them again and pray. It’s our religious right and nobody can stop us from practicing our religion,” said Mohammad Sulaiman, who was among about 180 men who prayed on the rooftop of a mosque that was set on fire in the unrest.
Tensions between Hindu hard-liners and Muslims protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s Hindu-first policies had been building for months when they exploded Sunday night, on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India.
Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, demanded at a rally Sunday that police shut down a Muslim-led protest in the city or else he and his followers would do it themselves.
And it appears they did.
Hindus and Muslims who had lived side by side for centuries attacked each other with guns and swords, metal rods and axes, leaving the streets where the rioting occurred resembling a war zone.
There was a heavy police presence in the neighborhood on Friday. On one riot-torn street, Hindus shouted “Jai Shri Ram,” or Long Live Ram, the Hindu god, as Muslims attempted to reach a mosque damaged in the riots.
Several Muslim residents told The Associated Press that most Muslim families had locked up their homes and fled the area.
The passage of a citizenship law in December that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities from neighboring countries but not Muslims earlier spurred massive protests across India that left 23 dead.
The protest violence is the latest in a long line of periodic communal clashes that date to the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when the country was split into secular, Hindu-majority India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.
The protection of India’s religious, cultural and linguistic diversity is enshrined in its constitution. But communal tensions have occasionally flared into deadly riots, beginning with partition itself, when Hindus living in what is now Pakistan migrated to India, and Muslims in modern India to Pakistan.
Clashes claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people of other religions.
This week’s death toll marked the worst religiously motivated violence in New Delhi since 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the capital and more than 8,000 nationwide.
In 1992, tens of thousands of Hindu extremists razed a 16th-century mosque in northern India, claiming that it stood on Ram’s birthplace. Nearly 2,000 people were killed across the country in the riots that followed.
The religious polarization that followed saw Modi’s right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as the single largest party in India’s Parliament.
In 2002, the western Indian state of Gujarat erupted in violence when a train filled with Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob. A fire erupted — it remains unclear whether it was arson — and 60 Hindus burned to death. In retaliation, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the state.
Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time. He was accused of tacit support for the rampage against Muslims, but a court ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.
Violent large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims last took place in New Delhi in 2014, months after Modi’s party came to power, in a largely poor neighborhood close to where this week’s rioting occurred. That violence left three dozen people injured.
Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University who wrote a book about Indian riots, said the worst has been averted — at least for now.
“If it had reached the scale of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002, it would have doomed Indian politics for many years to come and brought India closer to the kind of Hindu-Muslim polarization that the current ruling party would ideally want, but is finding it hard to manufacture,” Varshney said.
BJP leaders, who have sought to demonize Muslim protesters as a threat to India, may see some gain from the violence, Varshney said.
But it comes at a cost, the international perception that India under Modi has become ungovernable, he said.
Government spokesman Raveesh Kumar denied the Modi government had inflamed religious tensions in India and failed to protect minority Muslims.
“These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicizing the issue,” he said. “Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy.”
He added that Modi had “publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood.”
“We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time,” he said.