Srinagar, Aug 22: The gag on all means of communication, including the suspension of mobile phone, broadband and landline services, since Articles 370 and 35 A were scrapped by the Centre on August 5, has badly affected the locals, particularly students, professionals and journalists in Kashmir, where people have resorted to letter writing, to keep in touch with their loved ones. Meanwhile, normal life remained crippled, as shops and business establishments remained closed and traffic was off the roads for the 18th successive day on Thursday, due to restrictions imposed by authorities and a strike against the scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The gag on all means of communication has further added to the sufferings of people, who are finding it difficult to get in touch with their family and friends, not just outside the valley, but within as well, due to restrictions and strike. However, to keep in touch with their loved ones in the valley, some people have resorted to letter writing, a method which was dead, due to arrival of latest technology, including mobile phones and internet. Official sources said that all cellular companies, including BSNL, were directed by the authorities to suspend landline, mobile phone and broadband services in Kashmir valley from August 4 mid-night, hours before the Centre scrapped Articles 370 and 35 A, the sections of the Constitution, which gave special status to J&K.
Even though the authorities claimed that 75 per cent to 80 per cent BSNL landlines were restored in the valley over the weekend, the service was made functional in some selected areas. According to sources, only over 20 out of 97 BSNL exchanges were made operational in the valley. Officials said that the services were suspended as a precautionary measure, to prevent spreading of rumours. However, besides adding to the spreading of rumours in view of non-availability of credible means of information, the communication gag has badly affected the lives of local population in the valley. ''I came to know about the death of my maternal uncle, three days after he died. My brother came to my house on August 16 and informed me that my uncle, who was dear to me as my father, had died on August 13.
My house is just four km from the residence of my uncle, but they still could not inform me because of the restrictions and clashes in the area,'' Asmat Ara, a housewife of Natipora, told UNI. 'I will regret this for the rest of my life. I was not able to see my uncle one last time and pay my respects to him,'' she added. Despite the authorities claiming that they have set up centres, where locals can made phone calls to the relatives outside the valley, people allege that the facilities were not sufficient to cater to their needs. People alleged that they had to wait for hours, to make phone calls to their family members outside the valley. They further alleged that only STD facility was available in the centers, while no arrangement has been made to communicate with the people living outside the country.
''My husband and I live in UAE. I was visiting my family in Srinagar, when the communication gag started, so I was unable to talk to my husband. On August 12, I was finally able to send a handwritten letter to my husband through a person, who was going to UAE after completing his stay here,'' Nazia, who works as a teacher in a UAE school, said. She said she received a letter from her husband on August 20, which was delivered to her by a complete stranger, who met her husband on a WhatsApp group, created by Kashmiris living in UAE. The WhatsApp group has been created by Kashmiris, to send messages, including letters, to their respective families, through people, who are visiting the valley. Besides students and professionals, those most affected due to the communication gag were journalists, who found it hard to verify incidents and file new items.
''We are finding it hard to verify and report incidents in the valley, due to the communication gag. I work for a national media house and was unable to even communicate with my head office in Delhi, for about a fortnight,'' said a journalist, requesting anonymity. He said despite authorities setting up a media centre with four computers and internet access, it was difficult to work with such limited resources. ''There are only four computers with internet access and hundreds of people await their turn to use them. Another aspect is that we are not able to get in touch with our sources on ground and in the administration. Even to get the official version or to confirm an incident, we have to physically go to that particular officer. So, it is difficult for us to file stories in such a situation,'' he added.
Professionals, whose work revolve around internet, are also feeling the heat of the gag as they allege that the authorities have left them high and dry with no option but to suffer or leave the state, if they want to keep their jobs. ''I work from home as medical transcriptor in a multi-national company based in Delhi. For the first 15 days of the gag, I was unable to contact my manager, as there was no means of communication. Last week, I went to one of the centres, where phone has been made available for the people. I spoke to my manager, who was emphatic to my situation, but said that if the internet was not restored in one week, I will either have to come to Delhi and work from their or I could lose my job,'' Irfan Saleem, a resident of downtown Srinagar, told UNI.
Mr Saleem said it is ironic that the authorities have suspended all means of communication in the valley without analysing the effects it could have on the lives of people. ''When the PM talks about 'Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas and Sab ka Vishwas', how can he ignore the plight of people of the valley? How is the communication gag and curfew going to impart confidence among people… I fail to understand it,'' he said. UNI