In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, a prominent rights group has called India’s communications blackout following the scrapping of the disputed territory’s special status, last year, collective punishment and urged the international community to question New Delhi over digital apartheid.
The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in its 125-page report released on Tuesday outlined “Harms, Costs and Consequences of the Digital Siege” since August 2019, when New Delhi stripped the territory of its special status that gave its natives special rights
The move, which set off widespread anger, was accompanied by a military siege and communications blackout in the territory that left hundreds of thousands jobless, impaired the already feeble healthcare system and paused the school and college education of millions.
The JKCCS report says, “The multi-faceted and targeted denial of digital rights is a systemic form of discrimination, digital repression and collective punishment of the region’s residents, particularly in light of India’s long history of political repression and atrocities.”
Many Kashmiris view the move as the beginning of settler colonialism aimed at engineering a demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir, a development that could increase the possibility of heightened conflict.
Digital rights activists have consistently denounced the internet restrictions and some have called them “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world”.
The report released on Tuesday maps the consequences of the longest ever siege in the territory’s turbulent history and its severe effect on livelihoods, education, health and press freedoms.
The JKCCS said it was based on fieldwork, government documents, court files and media reports. During the service blackouts, critically ill patients could not access government healthcare or seek insurance reimbursements online, students could not apply for fellowships or scholarships and distraught families could not connect to relatives outside the region. Local tech companies had to close or relocate to other areas of India.
“While the Government of India has succeeded in gagging the voices of people of Jammu and Kashmir with its longstanding communication blockade,” the report said, “it should not prevent the international community from speaking and calling out the Government of India for suppressing the fundamental rights of people.”—KMS