Everytime there is a firefight or an event with some security implications, the state government shuts the internet down in the Valley. During the visit of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, the government suspended the internet “as a precautionary measure” for more than a day. This shows how enforcing the communication blockade in the Valley no longer needs a credible enough reason but that it can be resorted to instinctively or habitually whenever security agencies in their wisdom think it is proper to do so. And such blockades are imposed without any thought about their enormous detrimental fallout on the lives of the people.
In this day and age, the internet has become the lifeblood of the economy. So stopping it arbitrarily takes a toll on the businesses, tourism, IT services, press and news media, banking, education, healthcare, manufacturing and heavy industries are severely hit. According to a report by International Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) Kashmir suffered a loss of Rs 2000 crore in 2018 as a result of frequent internet suspension. The loss in 2017 has been pegged at Rs 1776 crore. Similarly, internet subscribers are estimated to lose Rs 2.5 crore a day every time the authorities pull the plug on the internet connectivity for one or another reason. The curbs on the internet are arbitrary in nature: a capricious exercise of the power, not based on any empirical study of a connection between the social media and the mass protests.
The presumed government rationale behind this blockade is that the content on social sites stokes the trouble. Besides, there is an assumption of a connection between the protests on the street and the posts on social websites. Internet therefore could be granted a role in abetting the trouble on the ground. But what is also apparent from this security perspective on the situation is that internet has only a limited role which can be tackled without blocking the entire web access. As is done on some occasions, the government can temporarily restrict access to social sites rather than make the entire web out of bounds for one and all. This rush to sweeping communication blackout on the shaky premise of this access leading to street unrest is a wilful infringement of the peoples right to know. More so, when it hardly helps head off the outbreak of the protests in Srinagar and the major towns.
For whatever the state and the central government will say, no power on earth can manufacture protests on a mass scale. Manufactured protests are not endemic in nature. They are drastically limited and soon peter out. It is thus incumbent on the government that it learns to restrain its impulse to curb the internet every time there is a minor or major security issue. This hardly helps the situation but it mightily disrupts the lives of the people.
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