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Why Is India Blocking VPN Use In Kashmir & Restricting Social Media?

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The Indian government is blocking the virtual private network (VPN) that local Kashmiri residents have been using to evade restrictions on social media and other blacklisted websites. 

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A virtual private network (VPN) gives a person complete online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs hide the internet protocol (IP) address of a user and all online activities are practically untraceable.

India banned internet access in Jammu and Kashmir in early August last year after the Modi government repelled the contentious Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir which gave the region somewhat autonomous status. The Indian government said the move was justified to maintain calm in the region

Earlier, experts talking to the EurAsian Times asserted that Pakistani agencies are provoking youngsters via social media sites and radicalising youth in the Kashmir valley which was inciting violence, stone-pelting and terror attacks.

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“Terrorist organisations and Pakistani agencies are taking advantage of social media to demonise the security forces and infuse hatred in the people. After 2016, we have experienced unrest several places, youth were instigated to pelt stones on security forces and disrupt operations that helped terrorists flee from the spot,” experts stated quoting former DGP of Jammu & Kashmir – SP Vaid.

Vaid had further stated – “After investigations, we came to know that in 2017, Jamaat-ud-Dawa had published an advertisement in several newspapers of Pakistan. The advertisement said that jihad can be done at home with internet and smartphone. They have recruited our youth in thousands via the internet.”

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Taking a serious note of abuse of social media, there have been endless reports of misuse of social media sites by the miscreants to disseminate the secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities,” the police said in a statement.

“We have identified over hundred 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 cyber police chief Tahir Ashraf.

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The move comes weeks after the Indian government restored access to several hundred websites, including some shopping websites such as Amazon India and Flipkart and select news outlets in the disputed region.

Social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are still blocked, even after the government restored limited mobile data service and the internet in the valley, so residents use VPNs or proxy servers to bypass the restrictions. Indian police said many VPN users were trying to provoke trouble in the region and were liable to face action.

A J&K 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.

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