‘Digital India’ dream cuts no ice in Kashmir

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kashmir internetLast month on November 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his monthly address to the nation in Mann Ki Baat exhorted people to do cashless transactions over internet. “Learn how this digital economy works. Learn the different ways you can use your bank accounts and internet banking. Learn how to effectively use the apps of various banks on your phones. Learn how to run your business without cash,” Modi said.

Reasoning that digital transactions are more secure and cleaner, he also emphasised the availability of internet for migration to a cashless economy.

However, Modi’s talk of a cashless economy riding high on the dream of ‘digital India’ cut no ice in Kashmir valley, where internet services on prepaid mobile phones had remained suspended for more than five months. The services were suspended on July 9, when the charismatic militant commander, Burhan Wani was gunned down in an encounter with the security forces.

So when rest of India is preparing to go ‘digital’ and ‘cashless’ after demonetisation of 500 and 1000 notes, Kashmiris are still reluctant to use e-banking and mobile wallets for money transactions.Particularly the demonetisation move came as a rude shock to many Kashmiris. It added to their woes as the region was already embattled due to protests and unrest as a result of killing of Burhan Wani. The five months of unrest and shutdowns caused a huge damage to life and property in Kashmir. It badly affected the businessmen, transporters and daily labourers. Shopkeepers could not open shops for four months and public and private transport remained off the roads.

However, after five months when life in Kashmir was limping back to normalcy, the demonetisation and the subsequent cash crisis again derailed the situation. People who were hoping to regain some livelihood after months of agitation were again robbed of a chance to restore normalcy to their lives.

While the government is making efforts to promote cashless economy and urging people to go digital, Kashmiris are skeptical of these moves as they are still struggling to get uninterrupted internet and mobile phone services.

The internet services on postpaid mobile phones were restored a few weeks later after demonetisation.

But people in Kashmir seem less interested to take it seriously for doing online payments as law and order situation remains tricky which can result in suspension of services at any time. Just few weeks ago, authorities snapped mobile and internet services in South Kashmir when protests rocked the area after an encounter between the security forces and militants in the village of Hassanpora in Anantnag district on December 8. It was a similar story a few days later in North Kashmir’s Sopore town in Baramulla district when a top Lashker-e-Taiba militant commander was killed in an encounter on December 14.

This frequent and prolonged disruption to internet services has irked many locals. “Taking down internet is a major setback for any progressive government and move to go cashless is useless until people don’t have internet service,” said Gulzar Ahmad while talking to Tehelka. Not only businesses, but disruption of internet services hit students too who were preparing for exams.

Additionally most of the people are not tech savvy in Kashmir, at least to do an online transaction. In major cities of India, people even buy grocery on credit and debit cards but in Kashmir people are mostly unaware of using online methods to make payment.

“Awareness needs to be created at the grass root level. People should be made aware of using e-wallets so that they can make online transactions, at least recharges”, Gull Mohd., a shopkeeper, said. While Prime Minister Modi is talking of a ‘Digital India’, people in Kashmir are asking if his initiative is realistic enough as for them it still looks like a distant dream.

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