In times of digital bar, how people in Kashmir switched to traditional interface

The 550-day long communication blockade in Kashmir in the wake of abrogation of J&K’s special status pressed many traditional modes of interface back into use.

From delivering messages in person to using handwritten letters and notes, applying for landline connections to managing things with low speed internet, it was a long journey.

The restrictions on 4G were finally lifted on Friday which marked the end to all sorts of communication blockade in Kashmir.

In the wake of communication blockade post 5 August 2019, Ghulam MohiUd din from Nishat area of Srinagar waited for weeks to hear the voice of his only son working in IT sector at Sharjah in the UAE. For parents whose children were out of Kashmir, that was a pathetic period.

“I remember that for weeks I found no way to communicate; then I found out a government facilitation center at district admin office. When we reached there, it was a jam packed place, filed with desperate parents waiting in queue to make a call.

“In first two days luck did not favour me; then we went to our local police station which was also offering the communication service. After weeks of waiting we could barely make a call for six minutes, most of which were exhausted in crying and sobbing,” Mohid Udin recalled.

Later when government restored fixed lines for calling in phased manner, the PCOs in Kashmir made a comeback and it was back like 90s in Kashmir. However many people whose landlines were restored were generous enough to open free calling facility for locals. Many of them made it to newspaper front pages and encouraged others to do same.

When the landlines were still to be restored, many businessman and professionals switched to handwritten notes and newspaper ads to reach to their customers.

In Lal Chowk many shopkeepers used notice boards for the information of their consumers. Rafiq Ahmed Baba, owner of Dulhan – clothing outlet said: “The situation was beyond imagination; we had no way to communicate with our customers. Putting a notice outside my shop with my home address on it was the only way out for me. Given that many of my customers had made bookings in advance, I could not leave them in lurch.”

For professionals like journalists, handwritten notes, pen drives and queuing up at media facilitation center for hours was how they communicated. “I recall I used half of my diary to write these notes, sometimes putting them on editor’s desk to convey important message. At times we used to paste these notes on our vehicles in press colony to let our friends know where we are and how to meet us,” Kaiser Abdrabi, a Srinagar based freelance reporter said.

While some used posters and notice boards, others took help of newspaper ads to let people know about how they were operating their business. “Those days, people in wedding related businesses and some others, used to queue in our offices to publish their ads to let people know how and where to contact them,” said an employee, working in a local daily.

After over 70 days of gag, calling facility was restored on post paid mobile phones and over 40 lakh post paid phones were back to life in October 2019. However, the internet was nowhere to be seen until the end of 2019.

The students were mostly hit as they couldn’t fill the necessary academic forms. Although government had set up facilitation counters at TRC and in many districts offices, the flow of students was overwhelming as compared to connections provided. In all the chaos, many Kashmiris took it upon themselves to go out of Kashmir to get the job done.

“I heard about a facility at Hazratbal where a guy was taking forms manually, taking them outside valley and submitting them from there. He was charging hefty sums for it but that was our only hope. At government internet facility centers there were a dozen computers for thousands of students which would have taken years,” said Adil, a student.

Finally, in December 2019 government allowed 2G with limited websites with many people taking help of VPS to communicate through messaging apps. Later in January 2020, the 2G was restored without restrictions and it took Kashmir more than a year amid COVID to crawl out from it when 4G was finally restored in the first week of February this year.

Before the restoration of 4G, people used all expertise to manage on 2G by optimizing websites, using low end software and using others means. Many termed low internet speed a major hindrance amid pandemic with online classes suffering most.