The VPN route to the digital universe in J&K

Published : February 20, 2020 18:18 IST

In Srinagar, youths use their mobile phones for restricted Internet access on January 25. Photo: PTI

Security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir have a new challenge now: looking out for youths carrying smart phones and checking them for VPN (virtual private network) applications.

Starved of social media for more than 200 days, Kashmiri youths have devised an innovative way to get past the digital siege and connect with the world using the VPN. It allows users to access the Internet through proxy servers, thus hiding their location. Stories of isolation from the beleaguered State are flooding social media, alerting the local police too. The latest incident was a photograph of the ailing separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which was doing the rounds on social media. On February 17, an FIR was filed in this connection under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Information Technology Act, the first such FIR since the Internet blockade came into effect in the newly created Union territory.

Now, Internet access has been restored partially; one can access 329 sites which are “whitelisted” by the government. There is no access to social media even now, and that is where the VPN has become a favourite route for the youth and a source of tension between civilians and security personnel. Security personnel allegedly check the phones of youth for VPN applications and if such applications are found the youth are allegedly beaten up. A 17-year-old boy from district Kulgam, who did not want to be named, told this reporter that though he has a smart phone, he carries only a basic device when he goes out. “It is just to avoid the attention of the forces. They stop people and check their phones, and many have been beaten up by security personnel when they found VPN applications installed in their phones,” he says. Another boy, from the Pombai area of Kulgam district, who also has a smart phone but does not carry it in public spaces, said, “Who dares go to the army camp to collect his phone.”

The government does not tire of telling the world that there is complete normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, but the residents have a different story to tell.