NEW DELHI — After imposing a sweeping communications blackout in Kashmir two months ago, the Indian authorities announced on Saturday that cellphone service would be partly restored within days in the disputed Himalayan region, though the internet will remain blocked.

“The phones will start ringing from Monday,” Rohit Kansal, a government spokesman in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, said in an interview. “It is a barometer of returning normalcy.”

Little has been normal in the region since Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally stripped Kashmir of its autonomy in August.

Anticipating unrest ahead of that announcement, the authorities detained scores of regional politicians and civil servants, cut cellphone and landline connections, closed schools and deployed thousands of troops to guard neighborhoods and highways.

Activists said the crackdown, unprecedented in its scope, was illegal, effectively silencing millions of people in Kashmir, a mountainous, predominantly Muslim region.

Starting in August, India imposed a strict curfew that constrained movements in the Kashmir Valley, home to about eight million. Doctors and patients said the crackdown has taken many lives, in part because people cannot easily access hospitals, medicine and ambulances.

Even with the tight restrictions, thousands of Kashmiris have gathered in neighborhoods to protest, and sporadic episodes of violence have followed. On Saturday, the police said that suspected militants had hurled grenades in a Srinagar market, injuring at least three people.

India has faced intense international criticism for its actions in Kashmir, though it was unclear what specifically prompted Saturday’s announcement.

President Xi Jinping of China, whose government has criticized India’s actions in Kashmir, met with Mr. Modi this past week in India but the topic was not discussed, India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, said at a news conference on Saturday.

The Indian government has inched toward reopening the region recently, announcing this past week that tourists could again travel there.

But Mr. Kansal, the government spokesman in Srinagar, said that some restrictions were still needed “so that externally aided terrorism does not lead to a loss of lives,” a line often repeated by Indian officials.

But keeping Kashmir frozen has led to problems. Around Srinagar, the streets are still empty. Soldiers are everywhere. Many Western countries, including the United States, continue to strongly discourage their citizens from traveling to the region, and some Kashmiris are now asserting that the police have threatened to evacuate them from their homes to make space for additional troops.

Business has also taken a hit. Recently, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce said the two-month shutdown had led to losses of more than $1.4 billion, as shopkeepers have protested the crackdown by refusing to restart trade. Many Kashmiris said they would not open their shops even if restrictions were eased in coming days.

“The issue of land and identity is more important to Kashmiris than cellphone service,” said Noor Mohammad Baba, a political analyst in Srinagar. “They think that by restoring mobile phones, the valley will slowly limp back to normal. But they could be wrong.”

The government’s announcement on Saturday, if it is implemented, also comes with limitations.

Indian officials said cell service would be restored only for those with or billing plans associated with phone companies, as opposed to prepaid phones. That means a continued wait for many people in the Jammu and Kashmir region. And though landlines largely work, there was still no word on Saturday on when internet service would be restored.

Outside his shuttered grocery store in Srinagar, Muntazir Amin, 45, said that even if communication started to improve, he would open his business only if the government released hundreds of Kashmiris still in detention. He said a much broader effort to rebuild confidence in the region was needed.

“Have we lost our sons for the last 29 years because we wanted mobile phones?” he asked, referring to decades of conflict that have killed tens of thousands of people. “We want freedom from Indian occupation, not restoration of mobile phones.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)


Source link

Load More By admin
Load More In Mobile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

Galaxy Fold 2 is coming in April with two big changes – SlashGear

Samsung and industry insiders report that the Galaxy Fold keeps on selling out everywhere …