Kashmir group calls India’s internet ban 'digital apartheid'

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Parvez Imroz, right, a prominent Kashmiri human rights lawyer talks to Khurram Parvez an official of the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society inside their office in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. A prominent rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir issued a report Tuesday calling India's communications blackout following the scrapping of the disputed region's semiautonomy last year "collective punishment" and urged the international community to question New Delhi over what it called "digital apartheid."(AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

SRINAGAR – A prominent rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday described a communications blackout imposed by India following its scrapping of the disputed region’s semi-autonomy last year “collective punishment” and urged the international community to question New Delhi over what it called “digital apartheid.”

In a report, the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society described “harms, costs and consequences of the digital siege in Jammu-Kashmir from August 2019,” when New Delhi stripped the region of its statehood and the semi-autonomy that gave its natives special rights in land ownership and jobs.

The move, which set off widespread anger, was accompanied by a security clampdown and communications blackout in the region that left hundreds of thousands jobless, impaired the already feeble healthcare system and paused the school and college education of millions.

“The multi-faceted and targeted denial of digital rights is a systemic form of discrimination, digital repression and collective punishment of the region’s residents, particularly in light of India’s long history of political repression and atrocities,” said the report, titled “Kashmir’s Internet Siege.”

Several officials, including the region’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, who issues internet regulatory orders, did not respond to requests for comment.

Indian officials have said the internet ban was aimed at heading off anti-India protests and attacks by rebels who have fought for decades for the region’s independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers another portion of Kashmir. Both countries claim the landlocked Himalayan region in its entirety.

Officials have also argued that such security measures were necessary to better integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development and stop threats from “anti-national elements” and Pakistan.

Many Kashmiris, however, view the move as the beginning of settler colonialism aimed at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region, a development that could increase the possibility of heightened conflict.