India Bans SMS Services in Kashmir

The Indian Supreme Court has ignored the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s decision to lift the state-wide ban on SMS (Short Message Service, or texting) services, MSN News India reported. The ban was imposed on August 3rd after the state blamed SMS messages for “spread(ing) rumors during protests” and “whipping up communal tensions.” Ultimately, the ban was extended after the Indian government declared that “the curbs imposed on SMS services were necessary to prevent unscrupulous elements from misusing them.”

The state’s ban only reaffirms the powerful role SMS messaging has played in the region, especially in allowing protestors to mobilize and share political updates. Activists in Pakistan used SMS messaging to communicate and organize protests when former President Musharraf declared martial law in November 2007; and it has been used on campuses across India to mobilize student demonstrations, most recently at Delhi University. Now, despite the “indefinite curfew” that was imposed on the valley on Sunday, thousands have marched across Kashmir, in opposition to India’s military occupation and its most recent acts of aggression in the region.

From Sri Nagar, the BBC’s Altaf Hussain wrote, “The strength of the protests is an embarrassment for the Indian authorities.” Blogger KashmirViews, who was an eyewitness to the march in Eidgah, supplemented Hussain’s claim:

“There were people from all parts of Valley, enveloping everything under the sun. Political, social, economic and religious organizations. Lawyers, doctors, cops in civvies, white collar employees, blue-collar employees. Children’s gangs, Women’s guild, cart pushers, the destitute and even the differently able (Handicapped) were present.”

With the overwhelming opposition it faces, India’s decision to ban SMS messaging – as well as two local TV stations – is not entirely surprising. In a country, and region, where cell phones are far more accessible than the internet, SMS messaging has become a critical device for mobilizing people. Also, the state’s explanation for the ban – to restrict the circulation of “rumors” by “unscrupulous elements” – seems dubious. Given India’s rapidly growing tech sector and increasingly tech savvy population, the government would be unable to limit the use of digital networked technologies within its own country without generating dissent among the country’s growing middle class. Sadly, India has disregarded such a policy in Kashmir.

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