February 2020 News

Foreign Envoys To Raise Issue Of Internet Restriction In Jammu And Kashmir

12 February 2020
India Today
Geeta Mohan

New Delhi: The second official delegation of 25 foreign envoys in Jammu and Kashmir engaged with the civil society, business community and media of the Valley on the first day of their two-day trip. As a part of the 'outreach efforts', the group is visiting Baramulla, Srinagar and Jammu where they would meet 'representatives of the civil society, including youth from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic communities, local business and political leaders, civil administration and representatives of mainstream media. They will also receive a briefing about the development programmes being implemented, get an assessment of the security situation, and witness for themselves the progressive normalisation of the situation,' the MEA said in a statement. While the details of the program have not been shared with the delegation citing security reasons, the overarching consensus from the meetings on Wednesday was that the internet restrictions should be lifted completely. The diplomats are likely to bring up the internet issue with the Indian authorities in their meetings in Jammu. 'It is the desire of all of us that peace prevails and that all obstacles to the business community can be surpassed in the near future so that the economy gets back on track in time for the next tourist season,' Ambassador Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and envoy of the Dominican Republic to India, said. One of the envoys in the delegation said while they moved amid very tight security and movement was restricted, the life for the people of Srinagar didn't feel very restricted. Meanwhile, a European envoy termed it a 'ghost town'. 'There is a lot of positivity. I saw the shops were open, people walking freely in the streets. I also saw a lot of kids when our convoy was going from the airport to the hotel. The situation is returning to normalcy. At the Dal Lake, there were a lot of women and people. A lot of boats. It was nice,' Afghanistan's envoy to India said. The envoys met the three groups of people in their hotel after their boat ride (Shikara ride) on Dal Lake. One of the diplomats said that while some thought that the entire trip could be scripted when they met the locals it didn't seem that way. Each meeting and conversation ended in debates with differing opinions. People spoke freely about their desires and fears. The biggest takeaways from the conversations were to lift restrictions on communication and the internet, review the 35A decision and give back land rights to Kashmiris and restore statehood to the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, there was almost no conversation on the issue of political detainees. One envoy said that while it didn't come up, the matter is for the judiciary to decide and is an 'internal matter'. There was a general sense that people they spoke with have come to terms with the decision on Article 370 but the worries were about the internet, banking, Article 35A and statehood. In the interactions with the locals and activists, many raised the issue about the promises made by the Modi government six months ago but nothing has moved forward. 'Most of them want development. They say that the government is yet to deliver on the promises. Not a single thing has been done so far. We are waiting to see what the Centre is going to do said one of the Kashmiris,' a diplomat said. Some also drew a comparison between Kashmir and states in the Northeast which are allowed special land rights. 'Why can't we have our land rights back? The government will have to rethink this decision,' a diplomat quoted a local as saying. The business community continues to worry about lack of internet banking facility due to restrictions on the internet. There was a brief conversation about political detainees, where one referred to the past governments in the state being corrupt. One of them told the diplomats, 'They (politicians) were milking the state for too long.' While corruption has been a problem in Jammu and Kashmir, it is prevalent in other parts of the country as well. Therefore, there certainly was a lack of full fledged conversation on the reasons given by the administration to keep elected representatives under detention for so long. One young man told a diplomat, 'Let's see what they have to give to us. We are hopeful. We hope for foreign investments. Let's see if they can bring in investments into Kashmir.' During the meeting with journalists, the issue that prevailed was again internet restriction that has hampered their work. That was the consensus demand that there is no true democracy if freedom to access information and communicate is curtailed. One of the envoys asked the journalists if they feel threatened. They were told that if a journalist does a tough piece against the administration, he or she is called in and asked about the 'source' of the story. One journalist said that they had become a little careful in their reporting lest they get into trouble. The conversation with journalists, according to a diplomat, turned quite engaging sometimes leading to heated arguments among the journalists. One of the journalists suggested that the jobs in Kashmir should be reserve hundred per cent for Kashmiris. But, many diplomats asked how would their economy grow if they don't have outsiders come with new technology and skillsets. 'You need people to train you from outside. Need to bring people in if you need to bring in the know-how from outside. The only way the area is going to develop is by getting talent from outside,' said one of the foreign diplomats. There was also a conversation on gender equality. With only three women media persons in the room, a European envoy said that there seemed to be a certain level of gender discrimination. One woman reporter said there were many women journalists in the valley but they couldn't attend this particular meeting. During the interaction with the journalists also, political detentions didn't figure prominently, it was communication, Article 35A and statehood that stood out. The 25-member delegation will be travelling to Jammu on Thursday where they will meet officials and politicians as well, apart from the locals and Kashmiri pandit population. 'The Diploamtic Corp is very grateful to the Kashmiri people for receiving us with such warm hospitality, to the local authorities and to the MEA, especially Secretary West, Vikas Swarup and JS PAI, Deepak Mittal for their hard work in organising and arranging every detail of this trip that allowed me and my colleagues to visit the valley region once again this year, to see the process of normalisation, security situation and development programs that might be implemented and personally receiving briefings from the business community, civil society and media on their expectations for the future,' Ambassador Castellanos told India Today. The group comprises of 25 foreign Heads of Mission representing various geographical regions. They represent - Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Republic of Austria, Republic of Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Kingdom of Denmark, Dominican Republic, the European Union, French Republic, Federal Republic of Germany, Republic of Guinea, Republic of Hungary, Italy, Republic of Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Republic of Namibia, Kingdom of Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of Poland, Republic of Rwanda, Slovak Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Republic of Uganda, and Republic of Uzbekistan.