Internet to be partially restored in Kashmir but social media ban stays

Students protest in Kashmir over the internet blockade

Students protest in Kashmir over the internet blockade, the longest ever imposed in a democracy. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

Internet is to be partially restored in Kashmir after an unprecedented five-month blackout, but only for institutions providing “essential services”, while social media sites will still be banned.

The decision to gradually reintroduce broadband internet to the disputed Himalayan region, after the longest shutdown ever imposed in a democracy, followed a supreme court ruling last week that the indefinite suspension was illegal and amounted to an abuse of power. The judges ordered a review to be carried out within a week.

On Tuesday night, the Kashmir administration declared that institutions such as hospitals, banks, government offices, hotels and tour and travel companies would have their broadband restored, to be provided by 400 new internet kiosks. It will first be rolled out in the region’s capital, Srinagar, and gradually to other areas.

However, personal broadband connections and all access to social media sites remained banned.

“There shall be complete restriction on social media applications allowing peer-to-peer communication and virtual private network applications for the time being,” said the order issued by Shaleen Kabra, the principal secretary of the Home Department of Jammu and Kashmir. The order will remain in place for the new week, when it will be reviewed again.

All mobile and broadband internet connections have been suspended in Kashmir since 5 August, when India’s BJP government, led by Narendra Modi, revoked the decades-long special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which had given the region autonomy, and split the state into two territories under the direct control of Delhi.

A severe crackdown followed, during which troops moved into the region, curfews were imposed, and internet and phone services shut down. While many of the restrictions have since been eased, more than 7 million people in Kashmir have been without internet for more than 150 days, which has come at a cost of more than $1bn to the economy and destroyed lives and businesses.

Mobile internet remains suspended but under the order, 2G mobile internet on post-paid mobiles will be restored in five districts in the Jammu region, to allow people access to “white-listed sites” such as internet banking.

In line with the supreme court ruling, the order by the Kashmir administration also laid out its justification for the ongoing internet shutdown. The ongoing suspension, stated the order, was to stop “the sustained efforts being made by the terrorists to infiltrate from across the border, reactivate their cadres and scale up anti-national activities in Kashmir” and to prevent the circulation of fake news in the region.