People In Kashmir Can't Access Coronavirus Information Because The Government Is Crippling The Internet

from the a-bad-problem-worse dept

As we've been discussing for a while, India's government has blacked out internet access in Kashmir since around August, setting records for one of the longest government-mandated internet blackouts in history. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to argue that the blackout is a necessary security precaution in the face of growing unrest in the region stemming from its loss of autonomy earlier this year. Granted, like most government internet censorship efforts, the move has a lot more to do with cowardice and fear of an informed public than any genuine concern about public welfare.

Despite the Indian Supreme Court declaring such restrictions illegal last January, the problem persists. And as a pandemic threatens the planet, these restrictions are making it hard for the residents of Kashmir to access essential medical information on COVID-19:

Worse, the government, just this week, actually expanded the existing restrictions until March 26, insisting they were necessary to "prevent misuse of social media applications" in the wake of "recent terror activities":

One local tells Buzzfeed the ham-fisted, counterproductive restrictions have made it difficult if not impossible for locals to access information on the rapid spread of COVID-19:

"I can’t open even basic websites that provide information and advice about the pandemic,” Nayeem Rather, a freelance writer based in Srinagar, the largest city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, told BuzzFeed News. “Most people in Kashmir don’t really have any information about the coronavirus or what is going on in the world right now. It’s a crisis."

Mir Moien, a medical student from Kupwara, a small town in northern Kashmir, said that the most he’s able to do right now is a Google search to find out information about the pandemic. “But I can’t actually click on any search results to read more,” Moien said. On WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app that most Indians use to communicate, most information about the pandemic comes through charts and videos that are impossible to download over the slowed-down 4G networks, according to Moien. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.

Some authorities have been uploading video alerts to Twitter, but because of the restrictions, most locals can't see them. As a result they're being forced to get all of their information from local news outlets that seem largely interested in artificially inflating the accomplishments of regional politicians. In turn, rumors and dis/misinformation are spreading quickly via Whatsapp and word of mouth, with no ability for citizens to research and confirm the claims. As a result, the local population there doesn't understand the scope of the pandemic threat, and many lack access to information that could protect the region from harm.

Governments that engage in such heavy-handed internet censorship and filtering may feel like they're in control, but this is yet another example of how such ham-fisted restrictions actively undermine society as a whole.

Filed Under: covid-19, india, kashmir, misinformation


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2020 @ 6:47pm

    At least they won't be exposed to the fake news, rumours, unsubstantiated information, scams and malware that is circulating related to COVID-19 as well?

    Seriously though, at least allow access to health sites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeDetroit (profile), 19 Mar 2020 @ 3:57am

      Re:

      RTFA they still have access to Whatsapp. Whatsapp is notorious for fake news, rumours, unsubstantiated information, & scams. Specially in India (source: Indian coworkers). What they can't do is copy/paste into a search engine to fact check.

      The ironic thing is where we do have Internet access, most don't bother fact checking. Maybe because what they are reading fits their beliefs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 8:21am

        Re: Re:

        Considering the so-called Fact Checkers are in fact wrong also, who do you actually believe?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Bobvious, 19 Mar 2020 @ 2:23pm

        Re: Re:info on Whatsapp

        Have you used the health service called Whatsapp Doc, where you can read about the virus-killing benefits of carrots and how rabbit-stew is a bad idea?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      Exactly! This might actually be a good thing for them, if it means they don't panic the way us "more civilized" nations have been!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 2:30am

    Close the Bridges to NYC

    QUARANTINE IN PLACE NYC

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Mar 2020 @ 9:23am

    only in Kashmir? doubt it! it's the same everywhere! governments are controlling everything. why the hell we bother to fight wars, i dont know. whatever the starter wants, they end up getting, win or lose. it just takes a few years longer and maybe a new starting place. the result is the same. the people get shit on, then totally screwed for as long as possible!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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