Exactly four months after internet services were snapped in Jammu and Kashmir, people from the Valley began disappearing in large numbers from WhatsApp on Wednesday.
Users of the messaging service noticed that they were leaving WhatsApp groups with just a "(phone number) left" message. At first, no one quite understood what was happening or why it was happening.
Suddenly all my contacts from Kashmir are ‘leaving’ the #Whatsapp groups, and their WhatsApp accounts are getting lost. Remember there is NO internet in #Kashmir from the last 4 months. What kind of sinister moves are these? @facebook @WhatsApp @UNGeneva @UNHumanRights— Soprich (@soprich2) December 4, 2019
Some observers noticed that the Kashmiris who disappeared from their WhatsApp groups this week did not do so on their own and may not even know anything has changed.
Nasir Khuehmi, a 21-year-old student, had set up a WhatsApp support group in February for Kashmiri students around the country who faced a backlash after an attack by a suicide bomber in Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The support group, which had hundreds of young Kashmiris, emptied out instantly.
“I was shocked and disappointed,” said Khuehmi. “It was heartbreaking.”
A Kashmiri doctor, Shahnawaz Kaloo, who lives in New Delhi and is part of several WhatsApp groups with relatives living in Kashmir, tweeted the explanation: "After four months of total communication blackout, @WhatsApp is automatically deleting Kashmiris from groups."
— Dr. Shahnawaz B. Kaloo (@DrKaloo) December 4, 2019
A spokesperson for Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp, told BuzzFeed that the disappearances were the result of the messaging app's policy on inactive accounts.
WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity to maintain security and limit data retention. After this, these accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups, though people can be re-added to groups upon regaining access to the Internet and joining WhatsApp again, he added.
But both Facebook and WhatsApp have so far been silent on the number of Kashmiris who have been affected.
The Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcated the state into two Union territories on August 5. This led to a shutdown of Kashmir’s internet services, cutting off the region from the rest of the world.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp in the world with around 400 million people from the country using the platform.