Srinagar: The Kashmir student and his girlfriend were in tears when they heard each other’s voice over the phone Monday, the first time in 70 days since Article 370 was struck down amid a strict communication lockdown. When postpaid mobile connectivity, including SMSes, was restored in the Valley at noon, hers was the first number he’d dialled.
“We have socially conservative families, so I knew her landline number but couldn’t risk calling. Today, when the phones started, we talked for a minute,” the student said.
“She had to hang up immediately but we will be talking later in the evening,” he added. “After the call, she messaged me and asked, ‘how did we survive this?’. I responded that love is more powerful than the blackout.”
The return of mobile connectivity, however, wasn’t as profound for Srinagar resident Shaheen Shah, who took it with a pinch of salt.
“Now my family can keep a tab on me,” Shah said. “This is the only downside of the restoration.”
The start of the new week dawned on Kashmir with similar scenes all around as residents switched on their phones after two months, as the Jammu & Kashmir administration restored calling and SMS services on nearly 40 lakh postpaid mobile connections in the Valley.
Long queues were observed outside the offices of mobile phone companies, as customers streamed in to pay bills they had left unpaid during the lockdown. The internet is yet to be restored so they couldn’t make the payment online.
“All postpaid mobile phones, irrespective of their telecom service providers, have been made functional. This covers all 10 districts of Kashmir province,” a senior government official said.
As of Monday, there was no word on the restoration of internet services in Kashmir.
In Jammu and Ladakh, only broadband internet service has been restored by the state administration. Mobile phone services were restored in the region in a phased manner between August-end and the beginning of September.
Prepaid to ‘be restored in phases’
According to police data obtained by ThePrint, there are as many as 88 lakh mobile phone connections in the Valley alone, of which around 40 lakh were restored Monday. The rest, which are prepaid connections, will be restored in phases, a senior police officer said.
The decision to ease the communication lockdown in Kashmir was taking after reviewing the overall law and order situation, according to the J&K administration.
All mobile phones were blocked in Jammu & Kashmir late on 4 August, a day before the government scrapped J&K’s special status and bifurcated the state into two union territories.
Over the following days, around 8,000 phone numbers of senior police officers, government officials, paramilitary and Army officials were unblocked or “whitelisted”. The blacklist, meanwhile, included state residents.
The mood in the Valley
Mir Abid, a resident of Jawahar Nagar, said he felt relief as his phone rang again.
“It is undoubtedly a good feeling to use your phone. I had even stopped carrying my phone but today, as I heard my phone ringing again, it was much-needed relief,” he added.
Many residents, however, claimed that the situation is still far from normal as shops, business establishments and schools and offices continue to remain affected by a public shutdown that has also allegedly been encouraged by militant threats.
A tour operator based in Rajbagh, Umair Ahmed, said the restoration of mobile services will not be of much help to him because his business relies on the internet. “I am still not able to take bookings. Unless the internet is restored, I won’t be able to carry out my operations,” he added.