After 550 days, India restores 4G internet to Kashmir

The region’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, asked police officials to 'closely monitor the impact of lifting restrictions.'

FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, Kashmiri journalists browse the internet on their mobile phones inside the media center set up by government authorities in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. India ended an 18-month-long ban on high speed internet services on mobile devices in disputed Kashmir, where opposition to New Delhi has deepened after it revoked the region's semi-autonomy. The order late Friday, Feb. 5, lifted the ban on 4G mobile data services However, the order issued by the region’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, asked police officials to “closely monitor the impact of lifting of restrictions.”  (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File)

India ended an 18-month ban on high-speed internet for mobile devices in Kashmir.

But the order issued by the region’s home secretary, Shaleen Kabra, asked police officials to “closely monitor the impact of lifting restrictions" on 4G services.

A blanket internet ban, the longest in a democracy and described as “digital apartheid” by campaigners, took effect in August 2019, when India stripped Kashmir of its special status and statehood.

The region was divided into two federally governed territories.

The decision was accompanied by a security clampdown and communications blackout that made hundreds of thousands of people jobless, harmed the already feeble healthcare system and paused the education of millions.

epa08990157 A Kashmiri boy uses a mobile phone after restoration of 4G mobile internet in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, 06 February 2021. The 4G internet ban lifted in Jammu and Kashmir after 550 days, the internet service was suspended in Indian Kashmir on 05 August 2019, hours before the Indian Government revoked J&K's special status within Indian constitution and split the state into Union Territories. The low speed 2G mobile internet was restored on 25 January 2020 and high speed mobile internet was restored in two out of 20 districts in Indian Kashmir on trial basis in August 2020, according to local news reports.  EPA/FAROOQ KHAN

Months later, India gradually eased some of the restrictions, and restored partial internet connectivity.

In January last year, authorities allowed the territory’s more than 12 million people to access government-approved websites over slow connections.

Two months later, authorities revoked a ban on social media and restored full internet connectivity, but not high-speed internet. In August, 4G services were allowed in two out of the region’s 20 districts.

Officials 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.

Many Kashmiris, however, view the move as part of the beginning of colonialism aimed at engineering a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.

The internet ban was criticised by politicians in Europe and the US, who called on the government to end the curbs.

Omar Abdullah, the region’s former most senior elected official who was jailed for several months in 2019, welcomed the internet restoration.

“Better late than never,” he tweeted.

Most of India’s internet shutdowns have been enforced in Kashmir but they have also been used elsewhere by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Authorities have cut the internet at protest sites outside New Delhi, where tens of thousands of farmers have camped out against new agriculture laws for more than two months.

– Reporting by The Associated Press