Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir are cracking down on virtual private network (VPN) apps used to circumvent a months-long ban on social media, police said, as part of a broader effort to quell unrest over the withdrawal of the region’s autonomy.
Social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are still blocked, even after the government restored limited mobile data service and the Internet in Kashmir, so residents use VPNs or proxy servers to bypass the restrictions.
Police said many VPN users were trying to stir trouble in Kashmir and were liable to face action.
“We have identified 100 social media users and are in the process of identifying more users for misuse of social media, for disseminating fake and false secessionist, anti-India propaganda,” said Kashmir cyber police chief Tahir Ashraf.
Police have filed a case against social media users who are using proxy servers to access messaging networks and stir up anti-India propaganda, a spokesman said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked special privileges from Muslim-majority Kashmir in August in a bid to draw the region closer to India and end a 30-year revolt.
It detained hundreds of people and imposed a communications blackout, saying the actions were needed to prevent people from organising street protests.
Through VPNs, users can route the data connection of a smartphone or a laptop through a private server instead of the local Internet service provider’s network.
That allows the user to access sites that are locally blocked.
Adil Altaf, 37, a businessman in Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, said he had downloaded a dozen VPN apps on his cellphone.
“They go on blocking, I will go on shifting to other VPNs,” he said.
Saleema Jan, who lives in Kashmir, said she had used a proxy server for a video chat with her son, who is in college in the northern city of Chandigarh.
Modi’s government has frequently curbed access to the Internet in Kashmir and other parts of the country, including briefly in the capital, New Delhi, amid growing protests against a new citizenship law.
As of 2018, India led the world in Internet shutdowns, according to a report by Internet advocacy group Access Now, accounting for 67% of the total recorded worldwide.
A Jammu and Kashmir telecom official said teams of software engineers were working to disrupt VPNs use in Kashmir.
“It is an ongoing process. We block some and they come up with more. It is like a cat-and-mouse game,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In other developments, three rebels including a senior militant leader were killed in a gun battle with security forces in Kashmir yesterday, police said.
A search operation was launched by a joint army and police team in the Pulwama district following intelligence reports of a militant presence in the area.
The gunfight battle began after the rebels opened fire at the security personnel, prompting them to retaliate, a local police officer said on condition of anonymity.
“The slain militants were identified as cadre of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a major militant group operating in Kashmir. One of them, Jehangir Rafiq Wani, was a regional commander in the outfit,” the officer said, adding there were no injuries suffered by security forces.
Arms, ammunition and grenades were recovered from the site where the exchange of fire took place.
Meanwhile, authorities yesterday asked education department to ensure that private school authorities strictly follow the fee structure norms laid down by the government.
Commissioner Secretary of J&K School Education Hirdesh Kumar said all private schools across Jammu and Kashmir must adhere to the guidelines issued by the government in order to bring vibrancy in the school education sector.
He said the J&K School Fee Fixation Committee (SFFC) has already worked out all the modalities and directions in this regard were passed to the private schools for strict adherence.
Kumar further said that SFCC would soon be reconstituted according to the new Act.
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