The suspension of internet services after the death of eight civilians in an open fire by the Army forces on the day of Parliamentary by-polls in Kashmir has festered crises in the restive region. The internet services, including those for mobile and broadband, have been suspended altogether since the intervening night of April 8 and 9.
While the government pleads that internet ban “prevents the situation from going out of control”, the argument sounds ignorant, much like the way it happened in the unrest of 2016.
If the government truly believes that the internet is responsible for violence in Kashmir, then how come the Valley witnessed bloodbath on the polling day when the internet was already off? Gagging internet has only proved counterproductive from time to time. Pushing besieged populace to information blackout only encourages rumor mongering. And the irony of the internet gag is that once rumors spread, there are no proper means to clarify them.
During the unrest of 2016, the internet services were suspended for months, but protests and killings escalated only when this information superhighway was already blocked. So, linking internet gag with the situation in Kashmir is ridiculous, if not nonsensical.
The online business and related services, on the other hand, have yet again gone to dogs. A tourist from the Middle-East who had come for holidaying to Gulmarg said that given the violence he wants to cut short his vacations and rush back home but that internet shutdown has left him unnerved. Tourists who are unable to book tickets or contact their homes find it nonsensical on the part of the government. Will such helpless tourists visit Kashmir again?
The journalists are equally at the receiving end of this brunt. Barring a few media houses at the Press Enclave in Srinagar, who have special internet lease lines, no other media personnel or institution has an internet access. They literally have to beg for connectivity in kilobytes from those enjoying the special lines. A country that flaunts to safeguard the dignity of its citizens makes them beg for connectivity to discharge their professional duties.
As per a report brought out by Washington DC-based Brookings Institute, India has already attained the dubious distinction of having the highest number of Internet shutdowns in 2016 while Kashmir obviously tops the list of these shutdowns.
The frequent internet ban in the Valley not only exposes the inexperience of those who impose it but also adds to the frustration of the agitated youth. For an outraged Kashmiri youth, who is used to social media to vent out his feelings, situation aggravates when this space for soft protests is choked. Once the internet is banned, the only way out left is to protest, is to take to streets, something that leads to violence.
In this age of communication revolution, the internet ban mocks at the Central Government’s claims of promoting slogans of Digital India and a cashless society. Depriving citizens of the right to internet access is a blot on Indian democracy if not necessarily undemocratic!