GroundReport: HM Amit Shah Says situation in Kashmir is Normal. Is it really normal?

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Wahid Bhat, Srinagar: Since the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August, the Narendra Modi government has taken great pains to show that everything is “normal” in Jammu and Kashmir. Union Ministers have repeatedly said the situation in Kashmir is “normal” (see here and here) and Home Minister Amit Shah reiterated the government’s stand on Tuesday.

In the Lok Sabha, the home minister said that the situation in Kashmir is “completely normal” and “not even one bullet was fired”. After Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury asked the government when political leaders like Farooq Abdullah would be released, Shah said a decision on releasing detained political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir will be taken by the local administration.

He added that Centre will not interfere in the matter.

Is the situation “normal” though?

HM Amit Shah in Lok Sabha: Situation in Kashmir valley is completely normal. I can’t make Congress’s condition normal, because they had predicted bloodshed after abrogation of article 370. Nothing of that sort happened, not one bullet was fired

Groundreport had reported in September how the Modi government was staging “normalcy” with threats and intimidation. “A school bus operator said the administration forced him to run empty buses for three weeks until the mounting losses meant the buses couldn’t run anymore.

A shopkeeper said he was one of 20 store-owners jailed by the police for refusing to stay open during business hours. The state’s farmers are yet to participate in a much touted Central government scheme to procure Kashmir’s famed apple crop.” Shah, in the Lok Sabha, also said that 99.5% of students sat for exams in Jammu and Kashmir.

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The government, according to the report, has provided internet facilities in every district deputy commissioner’s office, and students have been advised to submit their forms from there. The report said that in many villages in Pulwama, government officers also have to do their work at the deputy commissioner’s office There is, therefore, a long line of students waiting outside the deputy commissioner’s office and most of them go back home disappointed, the report added.

Even GroundReport reported on how the internet blackout is forcing young entrepreneurs out of the Valley. “Start-ups, which saw a rosy future, are now heading into a grey zone of despair in the absence of Internet for over 120 days now.”

In the last four months, the report cited official figures to say that the uncertainty has resulted in over 80% job losses among start ups which rely on the internet in Kashmir.

Thursday, 5 December, marks four months of an internet blackout in Kashmir. The blackout was among the restrictions that kicked in as the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir was stripped of its special status, guaranteed by the now-scrapped Article 370, and bifurcated into union territories on 5 August. While broadband internet has since returned to Jammu and Ladakh (now a separate union territory), Kashmir remains off the web even as other restrictions have been eased.

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Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant General G.C. Murmu said last week that internet will be restored in Kashmir “in phases” as the situation “becomes more normal”. However, he gave no timeline for restoration of internet services. However, the announcement will provide cold comfort to a generation of Kashmir’s young internet entrepreneurs who find their businesses demolished by the four-month clampdown a punishingly long spell even in Kashmir, with its weary familiarity with routine internet shutdowns.

 “We are reviewing it (internet ban) and as it (situation) becomes more normal, we will do it (restore) phase-wise. We have already discussed it with our administration and we are taking it up,” Murmu said. Though most restrictions have been lifted, the clampdown on internet services across all platforms and prepaid mobile phone still remains. Postpaid cellphones and landlines are working in the Valley. Officials allowed service providers to start SMS service messages in the Valley on Tuesday.

The internet shutdowns routinely imposed in Kashmir cost the Valley Rs 4,000 crore between 2012 and 2017, according to a 2018 report by Delhi-based think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

The internet restrictions in place since August have already cost the Valley nearly twice as much, according to a November report released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) that estimates losses at $1 billion. “We are suffering huge losses and the condition of big business houses is miserable,” said KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq Ahmed. “We can think of these young boys and girls who were running their business online. The majority of Kashmir’s businesses are internet-based, like IT, tourism etc,” he added. “Offline businesses still work… but there is no alternative for online entrepreneurs.”

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“These [internet] entrepreneurs are completely jobless and there were hundreds of other people who were involved with them for their livelihood,” said Ahmed. “This loss will take a toll on our economy and will take years to cover since most of the businesses have loans from banks and interests are equally high.”