Netizens in Kashmir resort to using VPNs to bypass internet restrictions
These applications enable them to access various social media platforms and websites that continue to be blocked by the government
Lounging on a settee inside a manicured park with a smattering of snow under their feet, a knot of young men in Srinagar's Abiguzar, Bund area are busy in installing Virtual Private Network ( VPN) applications to enable them to access various social media platforms and websites blocked by the government.
After a hiatus of nearly six months, the authorities on January 24 decided to resume broadband and low speed cellular internet services across Kashmir. However, access was restricted to only whitelisted sites while all the social media platforms continued to be out of bounds.
The move came close on the heels of Supreme Court's order asking the Jammu & Kashmir administration to "review all orders suspending internet services forthwith".
The ruling dispensation had cut off all communications a few hours before it stripped the Jammu & Kashmir of its constitutional autonomy and bifurcated it into two federally controlled territories on August 5 last year.
"This VPN enables us to access the social media and other restricted websites," said Irfan Ahmad, one of the young men who successfully installed the application on his phone.
"But the speed is very low. It takes too long to open a simple email and if you have an attached file, it would hardly download," griped another.
Many netizens said that even the whitelisted web sites were not easily accessed due to the low speed internet connection.
"It took me half an hour to access the website of an educational institute which otherwise has been categorised as a whitelisted site," said Javaid Ahmad, a post grad student.
Every time the authorities block the access to social media and some select sites, these are the VPNs which come to the rescue of people here.
Earlier, the netizens used the VPN, ‘Turbo’, now it is ‘Psiphon’, ‘My Freedom’ and ‘VPN X’ which are being widely used to bypass the restrictions.
It is not for the first time when authorities have blocked access to social media, internet sites and instant messaging applications like Whatsapp and Telegram in the Valley. In 2012, the government briefly barred Facebook and Youtube after some controversial video made it to social media, spurring the former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti to take the step.
More than five years down the line, in April 2017, Mufti led PDP-BJP government issued an order banning at least 22 social media sites for a month. The ban, according to government, was imposed to contain elements inimical to peace.
"At that time people also used VPNs to access restricted social media platforms," said Mudasir Ahmad, a local resident.
Ahmad said that people were now used to such undemocratic moves of the government.
"The internet suspension is not a new thing here. A mere rumour prompts authorities to shut data services off," Ahmad added.
In Kashmir Valley, the government has created a history of sorts by imposing the longest internet ever shut down.