Seventy one days after communications blackout was imposed in Kashmir Valley in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, Government has restored post-paid mobile phones. It was a sight to watch when phones started ringing again and people could once again contact their kith and kin. More so, the people living abroad who had no way of contacting home. However, the Government stayed short of lifting ban on pre-paid phones and internet, both mobile and broadband. Nor did the Government spokesman Rohit Kansal give any indication of the internet being restored anytime soon. While restoration of post-paid phones is welcome, it doesn’t mean much in the absence of internet. In this day and age it is impossible to imagine life without internet.
Almost two and a half months without internet is a long time for a communication blackout. It could be very well a world record. Incidentally, this blackout has persisted despite the government terming the situation by and large normal. Unlike in 2016 when there were large-scale protests following the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, an uneasy peace has largely held in the Valley. So, normally the government should have long removed the restrictions but this hasn’t happened.
Lack of communication has inflicted untold miseries on the people. Not only have social interactions been severely affected but the economy has also suffered. The government is thus hoped to be sensitive to the grievances of the people and restore all phones and internet without further delay. It was a month ago that the home minister Amit Shah had said that all communication shall be restored within a fortnight but the pledge is yet to be realized. People in the Valley are looking forward to home minister to keep his word.
Government still remains the dominant source of information for the local people. They get to hear it on satellite television which remains the only mass media freely available in the state. In the absence of internet, people have no access to most of the reports filed by the journalists active in the state. On their part, most of the people have little knowledge of what is happening in other parts of the Valley.
Far from helping in any way to improve the situation, the communication blockade has been a source of more public frustration. It has effectively cut people off not only from their immediate surroundings but also from the world. The consequent information vacuum is now being filled in by the rumours and a pervasive sense of the uncertainty. And this hardly bodes well for the future peace. It is time government changes tack and rather than curbing the freedoms of people tries a genuine outreach.