Tensions Continue High Over Kashmir, With 500 Arrests And A Communications Blackout Indian-administered Kashmir is now in its fourth day of a communications blackout, following the government's decision to revoke its special status. Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties.

Tensions Continue High Over Kashmir, With 500 Arrests And A Communications Blackout

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The Indian part of Kashmir went silent this week, meaning no phones, no TV, no Internet. The central government cut them to prevent unrest over its decision to remove Kashmir's autonomy. Move by India's Hindu nationalist government is deeply unpopular with the majority-Muslim residents in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the blackout has forced Kashmiris to come up with creative ways to communicate with the rest of India, as NPR's Delhi producer Furkan Latif Khan reports.

FURKAN LATIF KHAN, BYLINE: Kashmiris are crowding into hospital lobbies because they're some of the only places still allowed to have Wi-Fi. From there, they can post voice messages on social media.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I barely managed to reach the hospital. It's just utter desolation here.

KHAN: They don't give their names but hope loved ones will recognize their voices. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including local politicians. Tens of thousands of troops line the streets. Schools and shops are shut. The only civilians allowed to be out on the streets are travelers heading to the airport, and they have to show a boarding pass.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Complete clampdown, complete curfew, huge army presence.

KHAN: Local news websites haven't been updated since Monday, when the Indian government locked everything down. International reporters are required to apply for permission to visit Kashmir even in the best of times. No such permission has been granted this week. So these voice messages are one of the few sources of news out of Kashmir.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Foreign language spoken).

KHAN: "Rumors are flying," this man says. He talks about protesters coming under fire, but he doesn't know where. Some of the news is routine - even happy. Babies are being born, but people are struggling to share the joy with their families. At the main airport in Srinagar, outbound travelers are approached by strangers asking them to ferry messages to people outside Kashmir. The government has shut off Kashmiris' Internet 53 times already this year. But this time, it's phones and cable TV, too.

That is unprecedented, says Sundar Krishnan at the Software Freedom Law Center in New Delhi. He says this isn't just about surfing the Web. It's about allowing society to function.

SUNDAR KRISHNAN: Nowadays, everybody is using Internet for anything and everything. So if you look at education, financial communication, normal life comes to a halt. So it's like a basic fundamental right.

KHAN: The United Nations warns a shutdown could exacerbate the human rights situation in Kashmir.


NARENDRA MODI: (Foreign language spoken).

KHAN: In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the shutdown an inconvenience that was done as a precaution. He promised things would soon return to normal.

It can't happen soon enough for Faakirah Irfan, who got stuck in Delhi on a work trip when the shutdown happened.

FAAKIRAH IRFAN: I'm a lawyer based out of Srinagar, Kashmir.

KHAN: So how are you doing, Faakirah?

IRFAN: Not really good.

KHAN: Not good because she's lovesick.

IRFAN: I've not been able to communicate with my partner, my fiance. His voice means the entire world to me right now, and I don't have it. It's stupid, but it's love, you know? It's like...

KHAN: Irfan is supposed to get married in October, but those plans are now up in the air. With no end in sight to this blackout, the daily lives of millions of other Kashmiris are also on hold.

For NPR News, I'm Furkan Latif Khan in New Delhi.

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