It's love versus war in Kashmir. As the authorities clamp down on Internet users using several social networking sites, fueling strong rumours of ban on social networking sites, it has young couples jittery. The authorities, however, denied having mooted any such plan.
Young couples say any ban or restriction will end their comfort zone of romance in a conservative society like the valley, which was in throes of militancy for two decades. "I am not able to access (social networking sites) Facebook or Twiteer sites on computers at cyber café. Even at home there is some issue. The only safe space of romance left is getting killed in the war between police and secessionists," said a student on the condition of anonymity, adding "Kashmir is witnessing increased activity of moral policing."
A BSNL franchise office at Srinagar received dozens of queries from subscribers on Friday to find out if the Facebook was banned. A senior BSNL officer on the condition of anonymity, however, refused to have blocked any site.
The rumour was floated after the recent black out of internet in the valley. On September 21, the authorities blocked the Internet and mobile phone services to stop any public mobilisation in the wake of release of anti-Islam blasphemous videos on YouTube.
On Thursday, the police lodged 15 cases in different police stations of Kashmir Zone "for prompting religious enmity among different groups on ground of religion" by uploading clips of a blasphemous film.
The police, who have a cyber cell exclusively dedicated to cyber crime, have been hacking anti-India and pro-separatists Facebook pages in the past.
"A prior permission was taken from the chief judicial magistrate to block certain URL addresses after convincing him of the repercussions of the video. Not more than 15 to 20 were blocked across the Valley this month," said a senior police officer on the condition of anonymity.
The authorities in the Valley declined that there was any move to ban social networking sites. "We have no such direction and nothing of that sort was discussed," said Srinagar deputy commissioner Baseer Ahmad Khan.
Senior police officers, preferring not to be named, denied any such move.
"Cracking down on the freedom of people who are already hurt and alienated will create more problems than solve them. Freedom of expression is for all or for none. The plan to crack down on Internet users is part of a larger media gag. The youth need their space and freedom, they're expressing themselves through the Internet- creatively or otherwise- as it is the only free medium," said Shehla Rashid, project officer at Internet Democracy Project, New Delhi.
During 2010 street agitation, social networking sites emerged as a tool to exchange information during the five-long long curfew period. The police had to arrest many administrators of the Facebook pages who were supporters of stone throwers.
In 2009, the government banned SMS service for post-paid cellular services in the state, affecting 80 percent of 48 lakh mobile customers in the valley.
"If grievances are genuine, protests will occur. If not, protests cannot be manufactured over SMS," said Shora, an activist fighting against SMS ban in vogue in the state.