India partially restores mobile phone lines in Kashmir

A man speaks on the phone after the partial restoration of mobile phone services in Srinagar October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - India restored some mobile phone services in contested Kashmir on Monday, two months after imposing a communications clampdown on the Himalayan region.

India stripped its portion of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley of statehood and autonomy on Aug. 5, cutting internet and phone lines and arresting thousands in an attempt to dampen dissent.

The restrictions have gradually been eased. Landlines were restored last month, and an advisory asking tourists to not travel to the region was lifted last week. But the majority of people in the region remain without access to mobile networks or broadband internet connections.

Mobile phones taken out on contracts, known in India as “post-paid” plans, were functional across Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday. Pre-paid mobile phones remained restricted.

“It is a big relief,” said Javed Ahmed, a Kashmiri in the region’s main city of Srinagar. “At least we can get in touch with our loved ones. But the major issue is the internet shutdown.”

The communication restrictions have hit access to healthcare and services and rights groups have been calling for them to be removed. In August, United Nations experts termed the curbs “a form of collective punishment”.

“Patients were not able to report to hospital due to the clampdown,” said a psychiatrist at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We hope they will do now. They missed a lot of sessions of counseling.”

Nuclear-armed arch-rivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir. Both countries claim the region in full but rule it in part.

New Delhi maintains that some restrictions in the region are still required to combat a decades-old insurgency against its rule, which it accuses Pakistan of fomenting. Islamabad denies this, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiri separatists.

Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson