After nearly six months of strict lockdown, internet connectivity was restored in Kashmir, India earlier last month. The flip side was that people could only access the 2G network and have been locked out of social media access.
However, ever since the internet was restored, there has been a sharp surge in the unauthorized use of Virtual Private Network connections despite the government’s orders otherwise.
A virtual private network (or VPN) helps the internet surfers protect their identities online. When a surfer routs his online activity through the specialized servers and encrypts his data, VPNs help in hiding the identity of the user, including their geological location.
In this context, Kashmiris began connecting their servers with VPN and connected to the world and social media platforms discreetly.
A quick recap, the Modi government had snapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution in August 2019, making Kashmir officially a part of India, as well as a federally controlled state. Before the amendment, Kashmir had its own constitution and head of state. The state was ripped off its right to speech, freedom, movement, and expression, which included internet shutdown.
Adil Rashid, a 27-year-old Kashmiri journalist from Kashmir’s summer capital- Srinagar, had a smartphone but didn’t care to carry it with him. For him, those six months were like living in the 1970s when mobile phones didn’t exist and people sent messengers to communicate.
“I relied on the internet heavily to communicate with my newsroom in Delhi” he said in an interview with The Sheridan Sun, “but the sudden disconnectivity was a nightmare.”
Rashid was disconnected from the world and also from practicing journalism.
Rashid added that the restoration of internet networks in January didn’t bring much of a change in their lifestyles because they were not allowed to visit most of the websites, including social media sites.
However, he found a way– VPN– and was back to the business of news on social media and other websites.
Elsewhere, including Canada, VPNs are a prominent way of safeguarding the user’s identity. It’s easier to hide the geographical presence and surf through sites that have geo-restrictions. This way, Canadian online users get easy access to restricted sites. Although Canada is a part of North America, Canadians don’t get easy access to the US-based websites- like HBO GO and Hulu.
Generally, VPN is a safer way to access torrent anonymously and view restricted content but the meaning changes when the liberty to access the internet is controlled and limited.
For some, it is a respite to connect to the world after months of isolation.