Denying Azadi of Internet

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In an unprecedented step, the state government has blocked access to the social media in Kashmir for one month. On Wednesday, the Home department headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti asked the internet Service Providers to stop transmission of around 22 social networking sites in Kashmir with immediate effect. A large number of such sites are unknown in Valley or at least used by a limited number of people. These are Baidu, Ozone, Xanga, Snapfish, Buzznet, Pinterest etc. The decision to ban them followed immediately after the  Mehbooba’s  meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. Government has already put to sleep the 3G and 4G internet services on cellphones from April 17 following widespread student protests after military crackdown on a college in Pulwama that left more than 50 students injured. 

Any violation of the order, the government has cautioned, shall be dealt with in accordance with the relevant provisions of law. The government has also offered an explanation for the decision. “Over a period of time, a progressively increasing trend has been witnessed with regard to misuse of social media, like Facebook, Twitter etc by the elements inimical to public order and tranquility, thereby impinging on public safety, particularly in the Kashmir Valley”.

However, the decision has shocked the people in Kashmir. Blocking websites for a month must probably be the first decision of this nature in the world, together with the ban on the mobile internet. The internet and the access to the websites are integral to the modern life and it is inconceivable to think of going about our lives without them. It is like going back in time. There is thus no justification whatsoever for denying access to internet. More so, when reasons for doing so are inherently moot. The presumed government rationale behind this blockade is that the content on social sites stokes the trouble on the street. There is an assumption of a connection between the protests on the street and the posts on social websites. Internet therefore is granted a role in abetting the trouble on the ground. But what is also apparent from this security perspective is that internet has only a limited role which can be tackled without blocking the entire web access.

If any proof was needed it was provided by the three month internet ban last year. The ban didn’t make any difference to the situation on the ground. Protests went on regardless and the killings and injuries too didn’t stop.  There is thus little justification for the ban. On the contrary, such bans and denials of accesses wreak havoc with the businesses. What about the thousands of people who depend on internet and social media for their livelihood. Besides, one month ban is tyrannical. If anything, it represents the absence of governance and the failure of leadership which alone can help in the improvement of the situation. The internet ban is at best a symptomatic treatment. But even here the symptom diagnosed is a wrong one.

 

 

 

 

 

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