Kashmir: Now WhatsApp Removing Members from Groups as Digital Siege Enters 5th Month

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Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — On Wednesday night, my WhatsApp account showed an unusual activity.  Ten Kashmiri members of a WhatsApp group I am part of left the group suddenly and at once.

The members were inactive since the first week of August when the digital siege was imposed in Kashmir in the hours preceding the announcement of revocation of special status by the Union Government in Parliament. The authorities also launched a crackdown arresting thousands, many under controversial public safety act and sent to jails in Indian cities far away from home.

I also found that the family WhatsApp group showed one member, who hasn’t been able to access the internet at all since the beginning of the siege, left the group.

To ascertain whether anyone else has also experienced such an unusual activity, I texted a few of my Kashmiri friends and all of them responded in affirmation.

I contacted one member who “left” the group I was part of to see if he knew that he “left” the group. With great difficulty, I could make him understand my question. He didn’t know he has left the group. In other words, WhatsApp has booted him out.

However, one group with only seven members and all of them journalists showed no such activity despite five of its members currently based in Kashmir. All of them have been, on and off, able to access internet at the government-run media facilitation centre set up by the information department.

Nasir Khuehami, the spokesperson of an association of Kashmiris studying in different Indian cities and towns, said he was taken aback seeing people suddenly leaving WhatsApp groups. “First I could not know what to make of this, and then I thought maybe there is some issue with my WhatsApp account at the moment.” Later he found out there were others facing the same issue and came to know that it had got to do with the internet shutdown in Kashmir.

Internet shutdowns are enforced by government in Kashmir frequently but it has never been a total blackout like the current one, for a period of this length. The public has no access to internet at all since the night of August 4.

The sudden booting out of Kashmiri accounts from the groups without informing them has triggered sharp reaction from Kashmiris living outside the Valley:

As of yet, we don’t know the exact answer as to why this has happened with Kashmiri numbers. The most plausible explanation is that if a WhatsApp account is not used for 45 days on the trot, then it becomes inactive; and if the period of inactivity crosses 120 days, then such accounts are removed from groups. We don’t know whether the accounts are deleted.

Caravan Daily emailed a set of queries to WhatsApp spokesperson for explanation and we are awaiting a response. The company has not made any public statement on the issue yet.

According to BuzzFeed News, Facebook — the company that owns WhatsApp — said WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity. “When that happens, those accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups. People will need to be re-added to groups upon regaining access to the Internet and joining WhatsApp again, Facebook told Buzzfeed.

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