SRINAGAR, India — Hundreds of activists from Indian Kashmir's main opposition protested on Friday against New Delhi's decision to ban pre-paid mobile connections in the revolt-hit region.
The Indian government announced the ban on pre-paid connections last weekend, citing concerns that militants were using them to trigger bombs in Kashmir, the scene of a deadly 20-year-old insurgency against New Delhi's rule.
Carrying placards reading: "Stop suspecting Kashmiris," protesters from the pro-India People's Democratic Party (PDP) marched through the streets of the state's summer capital Srinagar.
They were led by party chief Mehbooba Mufti who called the ban a "manifestation of India's discriminatory policies in Kashmir."
She demanded to know why the government had banned pre-paid connections in Kashmir when it had not taken similar steps in areas of the country where Maoist insurgents are operating or in the insurgency-racked northeast.
The ban has affected 3.8 million users in Kashmir.
Post-paid mobiles, billed on a monthly basis, can still be bought. But buying them requires a series of security checks and official registration of personal details and passport photographs.
Pre-paid phones, popular because of their easy availability and payment flexibility, come with a set number of minutes charged on them, have no bills and had been sold without detailed identity checks.
The last militant bomb attack in Kashmir was in September in Srinagar when four people died. Police said at the time they suspected a mobile phone might have been used to detonate the blast.
However, opponents of the ban say that militants can easily get pre-paid mobile connections outside Kashmir.
The government has said it will review the ban once security concerns are addressed.
"I think that service providers will meet the government and present a plan by which we can reconcile security interest and the interests of consumers," Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said earlier in the week.
An estimated 47,000 lives have been lost in the Kashmir conflict, according to official figures, though violence has declined in recent years after the start of a peace process between India and Pakistan in 2004.
Mobile services were launched in Kashmir only in 2003 after security agencies gave the go-ahead following appeals by the then ruling PDP party.
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