Day 71: Postpaid Mobiles Ring But Internet Gag Unabated

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A man speaks on his mobile phone in Srinagar after postpaid services were restored in Kashmir Valley after 71 days. Photo: Abid Bhat

SRINAGAR – Mobile phones in Kashmir buzzed back to life on Monday, connecting 40 lakh post-paid subscribers to their families and friends in the country, the Valley and their neighbourhoods after 71 days but without any internet facilities.

The phones started ringing from noon as promised by the government on Saturday and people across the Valley quickly dialled out to speak to those they had been unable to since August 5, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganised the state into two union territories.

The resumption of the service is only on post-paid connections and only for voice calls and SMS. Over 25 lakh prepaid mobile phones and other internet services, including WhatsApp, will remain deactivated for now, officials said.

Connectivity was snapped exactly a week before Eid, celebrated on August 12. And so great was the relief on Monday that many Kashmiris wished each other Eid Mubarak.

Basharat Ahmad, a resident of the old city, lost no time in calling his friends and relatives within Kashmir and outside to just hear their voices after the long gap. In just an hour, he made 30 calls.

“I had not spoken to my relatives in Delhi and elsewhere outside Kashmir for 70 days. I want to hear from all of them and want to tell them we are still alive,” Ahmad said.

For Nighat Shah, it was Eid all over again.

“This day is no less than Eid for us. In a global era of the world becoming one, transcending borders, we were cut off from the rest of the world for more than two months,” she said.

Her brother, Masroor, used the mobile phone to wish “Eid Mubarak” to his wife Sumaira in Dehradun.

“It’s really a celebration after so any days. There are many relatives we couldn’t wish on Eid,” he said.

Some senior police officials also greeted each other “Eid Mubarak”, said officials on the condition of anonymity.

Eid was on August 12 this year, exactly a week after the communication blackout in the Valley.

The government’s decision to restore services on postpaid mobile connections gave 40 lakh subscribers in the Valley the freedom to talk to their family, friends and colleagues whenever and from wherever they wanted to.

The resumption of the service is only on post-paid connections and only for voice calls and SMS. Over 25 lakh prepaid mobile phones and other internet services, including WhatsApp, will remain deactivated for now, officials said.

It was a tough 72 days even for those whose loved ones stayed close by.

Yasir Ahad said he was talking to his fiancee when the lines snapped abruptly.

“I was not able to contact my fiancee who lives just five kilometres from my place. We got engaged in July this year and two weeks later we had no information about each other’s well being,” Ahad said.

Ahad, who plans to get married next spring, said he would talk to his fiancee every day till the sudden communication blockade came into force in the early hours of August 5. “I was talking to her when the signal went off. Initially, I thought there was something wrong with my phone but soon realised that the rumours ahead of August 5 were not unfounded,” he added.

Danish Wani, a travel agent, said he can now resume his work. The absence of any form of communication had hit his livelihood and it is now time to make up the losses, he said.

“In an ideal situation, I would like internet connectivity to also be restored. But the resumption of mobile phone services will at least help me getting back into the business. A telephone connection is of vital importance in the ticketing business,” Wani said.

Wani said he tried his best to get a connection after landlines were restored last month but could not.

“The strange thing I noticed is that the local lineman would decide whether it is feasible to provide a fresh landline connection or not. The lineman in my locality refused to give these reports…,” he said.

Hoteliers and other people associated with travel trade are optimistic about the road ahead. The move to restore mobile phone services will help the tourism industry prepare for tourists for the winter season.

“We can now start communicating with our network partners for bookings for the coming winter season. The peak season is gone but we are hopeful of minimising the losses if there is some business this winter,” Masroor Ahmad, a hotelier, said.

There were also many who expressed scepticism and said the government’s move on post-paid connections is just cosmetic.

“What about the 30 lakh subscribers using prepaid connections? And how will restoration of mobile phones help in restoration of normalcy in Kashmir? These steps cannot paper over the deep alienation caused by the recent decision taken by Government of India in respect of Jammu and Kashmir,” Sahil Lone, a post graduate student, said.

The restoration of post-paid mobile phones of all services tops a number of steps taken in recent weeks to remove restrictions in the Valley. Last week, the state was opened to tourists. Educational institutions are also open, but attendance has been slim.

On August 17, partial fixed line telephony was resumed in the Valley. On September 4, nearly 50,000 landlines were declared operational.

The announcement that the services would be restored was made by Jammu and Kashmir Principal Secretary and spokesperson Rohit Kansal at a nationally televised press conference here on Saturday.

 

 


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