Srinagar, Oct 14 2019: The first number that Muzammil Ahmed Shah dialled after government restored postpaid mobile lines on Monday—nearly 70 days after the imposition of a complete communications clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir—was his grandmother’s. Shah, a law student, said he was able to speak to his parents back in Gehend, Shopian only once in a while through their neighbour’s landline phone.
"I was waiting for 12 o’clock as we were told that is when phone lines would be restored. There was always a worry about my parents’ well-being. The landline phone wasn’t the perfect medium of communication because a conversation over it was contingent on so many factors. I had spoken to my parents a few times but I was more concerned for my grandmother who couldn’t come all the way to speak on the phone. Hearing her voice has reassured me," Shah, who is pursuing his studies from Srinagar, told News18.
Srinagar’s Lal Chowk was abuzz with activity as mobile phones rang for the first time after two months. There were happy exchanges of ’Mubarak’ all around with the sort of joy one only sees on Eid.
Those with postpaid connections were busy making calls, while those without them were seen queuing up around them. One could see people driving while answering and making calls. A traffic policeman News18 spoke to said they will soon start issuing challans for using mobile phone while driving.
A shopkeeper who had made a few calls himself, told News18 on the condition of anonymity: "This restoration of phone lines reminds us what a normal life is like, and how it can be snatched away. What most other people outside Kashmir take for granted, we deem extraordinary."
Amid this flurry of calls, some were frantically calling up their service providers. As soon as phone lines were restored, most people realised that they had not paid their phone bills in the absence of internet. Many were seen rushing around to provision stores and communication stores to get their phones charged from their service providers. But many shops were shut being an afternoon.
There are 84 lakh phone connections in the Valley. On Saturday, the J&K administration announced that some 40 lakh postpaid mobile phones will become operational from Monday noon. Mobile internet and web services generally remain deactivate for now. Phone lines were snapped in Kashmir on August 5, when Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government’s major decision to nullify Article 370 to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, and also bifurcated the strife-torn state into two Union Territories. Ever since then, Kashmir had been living through a communication blackout that was eased only incrementally with the restoration of landlines, followed by Monday’s move of restoring postpaid phone lines.