SRINAGAR: After the J&K administration revoked the ban on social media on Wednesday after seven long months, people especially youth are ecstatic about the latest development.
The decision to remove curbs on social media came as a surprise, given the ever-increasing crackdown on the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications by the mobile operators and broadband service providers. Firewalls were being constantly strengthened by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) so as to enforce the ban on social media sites by making VPNs useless.
As soon as the mobile operators restored the unrestricted internet access, youth in groups were seen glued to their smartphones. While some were accessing social media, a lot among them were downloading educational content like video lectures.
In Pulwama, one such young group of people were sitting in a local cafe. When asked about the resumption of unrestricted internet services, they called it a “dream come true.”
“Such a good thing happened today. I can’t believe that I no longer need a VPN to access Facebook,” said one of the youth, Rafiq Ahmad. He added, “I am an avid lover of PUBG mobile game and hope 4G internet is also restored as soon as possible.”
While Rafiq is a shopkeeper by profession, most of his friends are college students who are busy downloading video lectures. One among them, Adnan Mir, says, “It was so very frustrating to find our internet access restricted to a few hundred websites. I had planned to leave the Valley if the authorities would have continued to block social media and criminalize its use.”
“Besides, social media is not everything. We have a huge educational content available online and it was unfortunately inaccessible due to limited access to so-called white-listed websites only,” he further says.
Although all of the sectors in Jammu and Kashmir were affected by the government-enforced internet ban, some of the sectors suffered significant damage.
A lot of businesses winded up their operations due to the crippling internet ban which contributed to increased unemployment in the erstwhile State. People associated with tourism and other allied sectors have been waiting for bookings but not much has been happening for them as well.
“From July 2019, we haven’t updated our website or run any ads due to internet blackout. We used to have tens of bookings for our tour packages with the arrival of March but this year, it was disheartening to see nothing coming our way,” said Younis Wani, who runs a travel agency in south Kashmir. He further says, “When tourists come to know that internet is barred here, they prefer to visit places like Shimla or some other tourist places in the country. Now, this (removal of social media restrictions) is a good decision by the administration as we can now expect bookings through ads and fulfil them as well.”
People are now hopeful that high-speed internet services will also be restored in the UT as curbs on social media have been done away with.
Meanwhile, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the largest broadband internet provider in the Valley, is reportedly working to restore its services. “We have some problems in certain areas where the cables have been damaged due to a demolition drive carried out by district administration. Most of the field staff is engaged in the repair works. However, the unrestricted internet services will be restored with a day or two,” said an official at the BSNL Exchange in Pulwama.
It is pertinent to mention that the authorities blocked all communication channels in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir on August 05, 2019, as its special status (Article 370) was abrogated while also being downgraded and sliced into two Union territories. It took the J&K authorities some seven months for deciding in favour of the restoration of unrestricted internet access in the UT.