Why Are Kashmiris ‘Leaving’ WhatsApp Amidst the Internet Shutdown?

Editor: Deepthi Ramdas

Hundreds of WhatsApp users in Jammu & Kashmir have had their accounts on the messaging platform deactivated.

Why?

In a statement to Buzzfeed News, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp said that accounts expire after 120 days of inactivity, and Internet services in Kashmir region have been cut off since 5 August.

Internet services in Kashmir region have been severed since the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August. Unavailability of the Internet has meant thousands of WhatsApp users in Kashmir have been unable to access the messaging app.

The Quint spoke with Kashmir’s residents as well as a few Kashmiris who, although live away from home, have family and friends back home whose accounts have been deactivated.

“When I saw people leaving these WhatsApp groups, I found it very weird and eerie.  All these people that you haven’t spoken to for four months on WhatsApp, haven’t had a single  chat with, why are they leaving these WhatsApp groups?” said New Delhi-based Khalid Bashir.

While Khalid remained on WhatsApp, his family members appeared to have voluntarily quit the family group. However, he later learnt that their accounts had expired after 120 of disuse.

A Precious Archive Lost

Among major concerns is the loss of archived chats with loved ones.

“But all the contacts, videos, photos, data in my old WhatsApp account are gone. I have a new number now but am facing a lot of problems. I don't know about others and whose is working and whose isn’t,” said Muneeb Ul Islam, a reporter who has limited access to the Internet in specific spots in media centres like the one in Banihal.

“I don't know if they'll be able to get those WhatsApp messages back. Those WhatsApp groups back. Those pictures they sent across to their families, to friends, to loved ones. Will there be a way of restoring them?” added Bashir.

"“Will there be a way of restoring old communications? The old communications are also archives. And most importantly, we tend to save some of these messages because they have emotional value for us and all that is lost.”" - Khalid Bashir

Also Read: Why the Long Internet Shutdown in J&K Is Doing More Harm Than Good

Caught Unawares

No Internet means most don’t even know that their WhatsApp accounts have expired.

“What you have said is something I never knew. Because there is no way I can know my account is deactivated. When there is no Internet, how will someone know and how will this be discussed? How will people know? We are unable to use the Internet,” said Manohar Lalgami, a Srinagar-based journalist.

Lalgami also said that the expiration of their WhatsApp account is all the more ‘painful’ for those whose professions require them to use WhatsApp.

“When I am unable to do my job how would I find out about others? This is very painful. What does one do?” Lalgami said.

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