Srinagar: Mobile phones in Kashmir buzzed back to life on Monday, breaking the silence of a 72-day communication clampdown and reconnecting 40 lakh post-paid subscribers to the country, the Valley and their neighbourhoods but without any internet facilities.
The phones started ringing from noon as promised by the government on Saturday and people across the Valley quickly dialled out to speak to those they had been unable to since August 5, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganised the state into two Union territories.
The resumption of the service is only on post-paid connections and only for voice calls and SMS. Over 25 lakh prepaid mobile phones and other internet services, including WhatsApp, remain deactivated for now, officials said.
Governor Satya Pal Malik said in Kathua, Jammu, that internet services would be resumed very soon, but officials in the security establishment maintained the process might take up to two months.
A decision on pre-paid subscribers could be taken next month, the officials said. “Let this stabilise first. We will think about pre-paid connections later,” a senior official said.
Connectivity was snapped a week before Eid, celebrated on August 12. And so great was the relief on Monday that many Kashmiris wished each other Eid Mubarak.
“This day is no less than Eid for us. In a global era of the world becoming one, transcending borders, we were cut off from the rest of the world for more than two months,” said Nighat Shah.
If it was Eid for some, it was time to reconnect with family and friends for others and back to much-needed business for many.
As news came in of post-paid connections being restored, people rushed to pay their outstanding bills. Telecom operators said the lines got clogged for a while during the day because of the heavy rush of incoming and outgoing calls.
Basharat Ahmad, a resident of the old city, was one of those who lost no time in calling his friends and relatives within Kashmir and outside. In just an hour, he made 30 calls. “I had not spoken to my relatives in Delhi and elsewhere outside Kashmir for 70 days. I want to hear from all of them and want to tell them we are still alive,” Ahmad said.
It was a tough 72 days even for those whose loved ones stayed close by. Yasir Ahad said he was talking to his fiancee when the lines snapped abruptly. “I was not able to contact my fiancee who lives just five kilometres from my place. We got engaged in July this year and two weeks later we had no information about each other’s well being,” Ahad said.
Ahad, who plans to get married next spring, said he would talk to his fiancee every day till the sudden communication blockade came into force in the early hours of August 5. “I was talking to her when the signal went off. Initially, I thought there was something wrong with my phone but soon realised that the rumours ahead of August 5 were not unfounded,” he added.
Danish Wani, a travel agent, said he can now resume his work. “In an ideal situation, I would like internet connectivity to also be restored. But the resumption of mobile phone services will at least help me getting back into the business. A telephone connection is of vital importance in the ticketing business,” Wani said.
Security forces are fully geared to meet any challenge arising out of the opening of mobile communications, officials said. The restoration of post-paid mobile phones of all services tops a number of steps taken in recent weeks to remove restrictions in the Valley.
Last week, the state was opened to tourists. Educational institutions are also open, but attendance has been slim. Markets and other business establishments remain closed while public transport is largely off the roads.
Most top-level and second-rung separatist politicians are in preventive custody. Mainstream leaders including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have either been detained or placed under house arrest.
On August 17, partial fixed line telephony was resumed in the Valley. On September 4, nearly 50,000 landlines were declared operational.