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Social networking sites suspended in Kashmir

Srinagar: In view of the recent state government ban ordering suspension of scores of social networking sites and instant messaging services, netizens here are busy searching and downloading alternative social networking sites and applications. Around 22 social networking sites and applicationswere suspended here for a period of one month or till further orders. The popular social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and YouTube (Upload) were among other banned social networking sites and applications. The government, in its order,had said thatcontinued misuse of social networking sites and instant messaging serviceswere likely to be detrimental to the interests of peace and tranquility in the state.

The ban came at a time when there have been widespread protests by students across the Valley. The mobile internet service was suspended in the Valley April 17following widespread protests by student against police crackdown on Degree College Pulwama in south Kashmir on April 15 that left over 50 students injured. This was followed by protests in colleges and higher secondary schools in the Valley on April 17. On the same day, a police order went out jamming high-speed networks, 3G and 4G mobile internet networks.This was followed by the government order banning the sites, April 25.

The state government has for the first time banned social networking sites in Kashmir. It is worth mentioning here that all the banned sites and applications can be accessed through government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and through Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

Internet has been reportedly blocked more than 28 times since 2012 in the Valley. “It is a mockery that on one side state government bans social networking sites and applications and on the other hand these sites can be easily accessed through government-run BSNL. The order should have been first implemented by the government-run service provider instead of the axe falling on private players,” said a group of local residents here, adding, even last year when the mobile internet service was blocked for months together in the Valley, BSNL operated without any hinderance.   

With the ban in place, many new applications like Signal, Imoetc have been making rounds. Beyond using VPN, people desperately feel the need of alternative applications. The local developers claim that there has been a surge in downloads of local social networks and applications such as Pipe, Connect Kashmir, KashmirChat and memberships on their social networks.

Irked by the ban, startups and business owners who promote their businesses online through social media advertisements accused that the gag would kill most of these startups within no time discouraging the entire young community about starting business in Kashmir and financiers in investing in these startups. Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) president Mushtaq Ahmad said that the ban was a disaster for the business community.

The student community emphasized that the ban would add to their miseries. “The social media helped us to stay connected with our families and friends.This was cheap means to communicate and government has snatched that as well,” said a group of youth, adding that government is denying the people access to information apart from freedom to speech and expression as enshrined in the Constitution.

Though some quarters strongly believed that social media acted as a “force multiplier” during agitations causing mass anger by instantly relaying unconfirmed news, there is another section of opinion which believed that the ban would prove counter-productive and magnify rumours. Yet another section of opinion holds that netizens would find other ways to express themselves. Earlier, when Short Messaging Service (sms) was popular, it was banned in Kashmir. Later internet was often blocked in Kashmir and now the social media networking sites are also banned.

The social media ban will force people to costly mediums like direct calls as people nowadays rarely use ISD calling as WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook calling saved them lot of money. Some users even complained that the search engine Google was blocked on some private service providers while the same could be accessed on other private service providers leading to chaos and confusion. Mobile internet was suspended for nearly five months here last summer in view of the unrest triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani alongwith his two associates in south Kashmir in July.

Member Parliament and National Conference president Dr. Farooq Abdullah, while interacting with a traders’ delegation here on April 26 said that the communication blockade invoked by PDP-BJP coalition partners would play havoc with the State’s economy and in turn render thousands of youth jobless.

Pertinently, mobile internet service was restored here (April 29 afternoon) after remaining suspended for two weeks with social media sites remaining blocked.  

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