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We Asked Kashmiris To Tell Us What Living Through A Seven-Month Internet Shutdown Was Like. They Had Lots To Say.

After 213 days, the Indian government turned the internet back on in the disputed region. Here's what people had to say once they were allowed back online.

Posted on March 11, 2020, at 11:36 p.m. ET

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When the government of Jammu and Kashmir, the region disputed between India and Pakistan, finally allowed the valley’s 7 million residents back online for the first time since August 2019, BuzzFeed News asked them to write to us and tell us, in their own words, what it was like.

We received nearly a hundred submissions from Kashmiris who were finally able to access the internet and let us know how they truly felt.

Here’s what they said.

Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

1. “This is what the totalitarian face of the world’s largest democracy looks like under the surface."

"We will remember everything. Our memory is our only weapon now.”

—M. Yousof Najar

2. “I wasn’t surprised. The people of Kashmir are accustomed to such communication blackouts."

"But the mere realization that the government was able to [have one for seven months] with such impunity was horrifying.”

—Andul Mujeer, Srinagar

3. “I felt that my life and voice did not matter."

"It finally hit me that my civil and fundamental rights stood on flimsy ground and could be taken away any moment without any explanation. I felt forgotten and let down by the state.”

—Nousheen, Srinagar

4. Bringing up a baby in these conditions was extremely hard."

“I had given birth right before the shutdown started and was going through severe postpartum depression. My husband’s job requires him to stay out of Kashmir, but we used to have video calls that would help me a lot with my depression.

"When the shutdown started, we couldn’t do this. For the first few months when both the internet and the phones were down, we didn’t know what was happening. I used to send WhatsApp messages to my husband in frustration, which never reached him. We were gripped by uncertainty.

"Even buying diapers was a challenge. When I stepped out of the house to take my baby to the hospital for his first vaccine, the streets were deserted. They looked like we were at war. I was frisked by the police dozens of times.

"A month later, my husband came back to Srinagar to live with us. Things have been better since then.”

—Anonymous, Srinagar

5. “I was planning to apply for an undergrad at universities in the US, but I couldn’t access online SAT preparation courses."

Tauseef Mustafa / Getty Images

"Nor could I order prep material online.“

—Mohammad Aheed Shah, Srinagar

6. “I went to one of the kiosks that the government had set up to let people submit application forms and pay taxes online, but a clerk who was manning it wouldn’t let me access it until I paid him 200 rupees.“

—Anonymous, Shopian

7. “I was planning to apply for a PhD to a university abroad, but I couldn’t finish my research and missed application deadlines."

"The seven months of shutdown were seven months of humiliation. Kashmir will never forgive, never forget.“

—Aarif Shah, Srinagar

8. “I'm a freelance web designer and the internet is my bread and butter."

"When the authorities in Kashmir decided to block the internet services, the days that followed were full of depression and despair for me and thousands of young Kashmiris like me who derive their livelihood from the internet. I'm the sole breadwinner of my family and the blockade meant that I could no longer support my family.

"The truth is, I haven't earned a single penny since 5 August 2019 and lost many existing clients during the internet clampdown. I had helped many young Kashmiri entrepreneurs to establish online businesses, and their websites were deleted when they couldn't renew the hosting and domain registrations because of no internet access.

"The internet blockade killed a million dreams in Kashmir.“

—Mudasir Ali, Srinagar

9. “Sometimes, I would dream. In my dreams, the internet would be back, and I’d be on cloud nine."

"When I woke up, Kashmir was still offline, and I would sink back into hopelessness. It feels surreal to have the internet back now.“

—Zarka

10. “For me, every day of the last seven months has been filled with rage and anxiety."

"When they imposed the communications blackout, it felt like we’d gone back to the Stone Age. We’ve seen blockades before, but this was unprecedented. When they restored it partially in phases over the last few weeks, it felt like they were throwing us crumbs and expecting us to be grateful.

"We will never forget. We will not back down or break down. We are resilient. We are survivors.“

—Furquaan, Srinagar

11. “I felt like I was in a virtual jail.“

—Qazi, Srinagar

12. “I saw my lover, who lives in Kashmir, for the first time in months over a video call after they restored the internet last week, and he looked so different."

"To be able to see him after so long was a beautiful feeling.”

—Anonymous

13. “Long story short, I lost my job."

Tauseef Mustafa / Getty Images

“When I got my first job as a sports writer at an entertainment website based in Mumbai, I was elated. They even let me work from home from Bandipora in North Kashmir — I couldn’t move to Mumbai because I was still getting an undergrad degree in journalism in my hometown. My job supported my family and had a lot of dreams attached to it.

“After weeks of no internet and no phones, I went to an internet kiosk in the district commissioner’s office and asked them if I could send an email. ‘Who do you want to write to?’ they asked me. ‘My editor,’ I replied. ‘I am a journalist.’ They didn’t let me.

“Long story short, I lost my job. No company was going to let an employee who hadn’t been in touch in months keep it. I was shattered. I’ve been looking for a gig for the last three months and I haven’t been able to find one.”

—Mohsin Kamal, Bandipora

14. “Businesses died. Students suffered. Families were full of anxiety. People are now connecting with the world after seven months."

"If that doesn’t fill you with anger, I don’t know what will.”

—Faila

15. “Not being able to Google anything made me very sad."

"It’s like the world didn’t exist.”

—Waqas Hafiz, Handwara

16. “I kept a diary of all the things I wanted to Google for seven months.”

—Zeeshan, Budgam

17. "What kind of a democracy is this?”

“Please remember that we still don’t have access to the internet at normal speeds. It’s severely throttled and everything takes ages to open."

—Numaan Showkat, Srinagar

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