It Took Me Six Months To Send An Email From Kashmir

On Saturday, my phone came alive with limited internet access after six months.

As I sent my first email after August 5, there was a barrage of responses from my colleagues in our Delhi office welcoming me back online. But before I could respond to them, the internet was snapped again as part of security measures for Republic Day. Then mobile phone services were suspended as well, a day after being restored.

As Jan 26 passed off peacefully, phone service and 2G data returned but the speed, fire-walling and stringent restrictions on websites are such that limited internet access is proving more frustrating than no internet at all. You are hooked to your phone for hours but access to even the whitelisted sites approved by the government is exhausting, frustrating and often futile.

In this age, you just can't think of reporting without the internet; yet, this is what we have been doing for nearly six months. Reporters like me have learnt not to take anything for granted. What we think is just a click away can take half a year. I can't thank enough my colleagues who keep me going even when I was out of hope.

For the first 70 days of the blackout in Kashmir, there was no mobile phone connectivity. Our OB van (broadcast van) became my only way to communicate with the world. I would dictate a script via the van's satellite link and someone at the Delhi would take down the script or information and this became a daily routine.

On January 1, SMS service was restored. It was a great relief for me as I could send news updates and copies via text. And I could actually communicate with the world - finally!

It's not that there was no internet facility in Srinagar: there was a media facilitation centre established by the government. Hundreds of reporters and camerapersons huddled together here everyday, waiting for their turn to file their stories. But for six months, media offices and newsrooms in Srinagar have been lifeless rooms.

When I look around, I feel what we have endured is very small in comparison to the sufferings of other people. Last month, I visited a remote village, Sangdan, in south Kashmir, 80 km from Srinagar where 40-year-old sarpanch (village head) Masarat Jan died from a heart attack at a local hospital. Doctors say a WhatsApp message could have saved her life. In the absence of cardiologists in remote areas, doctors had been successfully handling critical cardiac emergencies by using an online platform known as #SaveHeart initiative. A WhatsApp group of 1,200 doctors across J&K which has handled 38,000 ECGs and saved many lives in last three years is defunct since August 5. As soon as a cardiac emergency reaches the first medical contact, the doctor uploads the patient's ECG on the WhatsApp group. Immediately, cardiologists on the group evaluate this and through a video call, guide the doctor on the ground on how to handle cardiac emergency. This is no longer the case.

Since August, the children of Kashmir could not attend school but were forced to give exams. For the first time after the advent of internet, the school board had to publish gazettes instead of declaring the results online. There are hundreds of IT professionals who have lost their jobs; BPOs, e-commerce, etc. have all been devastated. Data is as important as oxygen in today's age. Doctors say even after wireline internet was restored in government hospitals, it's restricted to administrative use and they can't use it for medial research and accessing online references to prepare their thesis.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment declared internet access a fundamental right under Article 19 and said an indefinite internet shutdown impermissible. But under the garb of protecting the security and sovereignty of India, officials know how to circumvent guidelines and court orders. They claim restoration of internet without doing so in reality.

In Kashmir, even the Prime Minister's website, NAMO app or MyGov could not make it to the 300 whitelisted sites. The Supreme Court's own website is among the countless blocked sites.

The events that preceded and followed the abrogation of Article 370 and stripping J&K of its statehood redefine how the people of Kashmir view their status within the union of India. There is a feeling of pain and dispossession, an uneasy calm and an internalized anger.

For the last 30 years, they have been struggling to emerge from years of blood and tragedies. After 30 years, that sentiment has taken a back seat.

(Nazir Masoodi is NDTV's Srinagar Bureau Chief)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.