Differently abled in Kashmir Valley pine for resumption of internet to connect with outstation friends

Many deaf-mute youth miss interacting with their outstation friends through social media and other websites even as the ban enters its sixth month

Differently abled in Kashmir Valley pine for resumption of internet to connect with outstation friends
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Gulzar Bhat

A few weeks ago, when people in Kashmir were freezing to the bone, differently abled Sofi Tajamul journeyed all the way to Punjab.

Tajamul did not make the trip to escape the frosty weather conditions of the Valley with temperature tumbling to parky minus 5, but to use the internet for a few hours.

It, however, took Tajamul a good six days to convince his father to allow him to embark on the roller coaster journey alone.

A few hours before the ruling dispensation read down the special provisions of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two federally controlled territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — on August 5 last year, all the communication lines in the Valley were cut off. Although the post-paid mobile phones sprung to life more than two months later, the internet continues to remain off-limits.

20-year-old Tajamul, a resident of idyllic Saloora village, located a few kilometres from central Kashmir's Ganderbal town, could not speak or hear. He uses sign language to communicate with his family and friends.

"He was fed up with the protracted internet ban as he could hardly connect to any of his deaf-mute friends," said Tajamul's father Nazir Ahmad, principal of a local higher secondary school.

Tajamul recently completed an engineering diploma in Electronics and Communication (E&C) from a local government polytechnic college. He would use various social media platforms to communicate with his friends living in and outside the landlocked Valley.

"He would frequently make video calls to his friend and chat with them," Ahmad said, adding that the long-drawn-out internet gag made him and many like him feel rather isolated.

Tajamul has hardly been schooled in the art of sign language, and has completed his education in various normal institutes in Kashmir. He would spend a great deal of time on internet to learn the language but the internet gag has also stymied learning process.

On January 10, the apex court asked Jammu and Kashmir administration "to review all orders suspending internet services forthwith". The court ruled that, "Freedom of speech and expression and freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g)".

The administration on January 14 decided to restore broadband internet in all government institutions. The ban, however, continued to remain in force for the general public.

As soon as Tajamul showed up in Amritsar, he checked in at a hotel and connected his phone to Wi-Fi. In a fraction of few seconds, he began receiving messages from his outstation friends. Soon he responded to their messages and also made video calls to some of them.

"They felt so happy to see my face after so many months. Even we cried tears of joy," Tajamul wrote in response to a written question by this reporter.

Saleem Pathan (16), another deaf-mute boy from Bemina, Srinagar has started throwing tantrums after the August 5 move, as he too has not been able to communicate with his friends.

Pathan learnt the sign language from an institute in Noida and like Tajamul he too would communicate with his friends by making video calls.

"I am concerned about his psychological well-being. Sometimes he gets easily irritated and feels down in the dumps," says his brother, Jameel Pathan.

Pathan, however, adds that his brother is excited after he came to know that authorities have started restoring broadband internet though only in the institutions. "It has given him a glimmer of hope," says Pathan.

Similarly, the internet gag has left Aquib Gul (22), a resident of Panzath, Qazigund depressed. He frequently insists that his family should move out of the Valley of Kashmir so that he can use the internet and connect with his pals in Chandigarh and Delhi.

"Whenever he gets a clue that authorities are mulling resumption of the internet, he goes straight to a nearby kiosk and gets his smart phone recharged," said his journalist brother, Umaisar Gul.

Many other deaf-mute persons interviewed for this article say that the internet ban has been gnawing at then.

Umar Ashraf Beig, general secretary of All Jammu and Kashmir Association for Deaf has sought the immediate resumption of internet service in the Valley.

The internet ban in the Valley thus far has entered its sixth month, causing gargantuan troubles to the local populace.

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