As the internet users in India pegged at an all-time high with 556 million people accessing the internet in 2019 – bickering in the comments section, sharing posts, posting stories, or even as menial as sending a good morning text on Whatsapp, Indians can be found ever-engaged on their phones. While 556 million conveniently take the internet for granted, a region has been ripped off a facility as basic as the internet.
Kashmir enters its 86th day of the internet blackout, the Valley’s position remains dilapidated and paralysed. “the internet is like the oxygen in today’s time which has been sucked out of Kashmir as more than 4000 people staring at a blank future who were associated with the IT sector in the Valley,” said Fahim(name changed), an employee of a local tech company.
The prolonged ban has given a huge financial jolt to the state’s economy. The Jammu Kashmir Traders Body observed a loss of Rs 10,000 crore post the revocation of Article 370. The shops that are now opened at sporadic intervals, have suffered huge losses with many local businesses on the verge of getting shut.
The grand promises made by the Centre for the fate of Jammu and Kashmir come crashing down as the Valley observes a loss of Rs 10,000 crore after an indefinite ban on communication and operating services.
“The losses for the Kashmir region have crossed Rs 10,000 crore, and all sectors have been severely hit. It has been nearly three months now, and yet the people are not doing business because of the prevailing situation. There has been some activity in the recent weeks, but the feedback that we are getting is dull, Sheikh Ashiq, President of Kashmir Chamber Of Commerce And Industries,” told the media.
The IT Sector In Jammu Kashmir Remains Non-Operational
While the small businesses such as grocery stores are still functional, the IT sector in Jammu and Kashmir looks at a grim fate ahead as many of them are still non-functional.
“Each disaster or agitation has knocked the life out of our nascent ICT sector, which employed over 25 thousand people at its peak in 2014. Today there are hardly five working in the sector and most of them associated with IT hardware trade in the Jammu province. The internet gag is the biggest contributor towards the retrenchment of this sector,” said Jahangir Raina, Chairman, Information and Communications Technology Association of J&K.
In recent years, some of the IT companies in Kashmir had set up small BPOs – some in rural areas – under the India BPO Scheme(IBPS) of Ministry of Electronics and IT, a government scheme that sought to incentivise establishment of 48,300 seats in respect of BPO/ITES operations across the country.
Hence under this flagship, the Centre, in 2016, established eight BPO firms across Jammu Kashmir that employed 400 people. With the continual ban of the internet, the eight state-run BPOs are going to be shut.
According to Raina, nearly all of them have been wiped out due to internet gag. “All BPOs needed the internet for their day-to-day tasks and had to wind up the business as there had been no internet since August 5,” remarked Raina.
“The whole BPO sector today – which employed over four thousand in Kashmir valley have been shut due to communications blockade. I have myself had to shut business and move out of the valley. We have braved prolonged strikes and short term communications blockade, but this present situation is hideous. I have never seen such a brutal face of administration with regard for dignified employment, labour and business,” added Raina.
Raina also pointed out that a local Internet service provider was jailed for seven days just because he was not quick enough to snap the connections to his corporate customers after abrogation.
Sources in the valley claimed that Raina was also incarcerated and black-listed for providing internet to former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to post three tweets on Twitter post the abrogation on August 5 this year.
Three major companies in Kashmir witnessed mass retrenchment – I-Quasar, Lelafe, and BQE, and many local BPOs are on the verge of pulling their shutters down once and for all.
“For us to be in touch with the clients, we had to shuttle between Srinagar and metropolis of India to access the internet. The three companies are suffering a loss up to 1 crore each due to overbearing cost of accommodation and makeshift office spaces provided to their employees,” added Fahim.
Fahim has also urged the Centre to restore the internet in the Valley or else the IT sector will be crushed to death at the helm of conflict. While Raina could still manage to go abroad to push his decaying business, for others, in Kashmir, the internet remains to be a distant dream.
“We have already escalated this problem to the Centre and they came back to us saying, we have other security problems to deal with. We look at this one now,” lamented Fahim.