India’s internet throttling has cost Kashmir dearly, leaving internet businesses fighting for their livelihood.Varsha Bansal
The year 2019 had everything going for Kashmir Box. The region’s first e-commerce startup was close to clocking $1 million in annual sales, had strong customer growth, and was in the final leg of raising a pre-Series A round from a clutch of global investors. But five days before the round was scheduled to close, India’s central government revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status — which it had enjoyed for over six decades since India’s independence. That same day, on August 5, India imposed a communications blackout in Kashmir — no internet, mobile service, or landlines. Kashmir Box’s founder knew right away that funding would soon vanish.
“We did not even bother reaching out to the investors after that,” recalled Muheet Mehraj, founder and chief executive of Kashmir Box, which hasn’t raised any funding since. “When there is an internet shutdown, everything is halted, life is on a standstill, curfew is put in place — why would anyone want to invest in Kashmir?”
The government’s internet throttling has cost Kashmir dearly. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have had trouble accessing COVID-19 information, students have struggled to study online, and internet businesses are fighting for their last breath — all while the entire world is increasingly running online.
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