After around six months the government has finally restored internet in Kashmir, albeit with severe curbs on its use still in place including the ban on social media. The protracted ban on internet use was the longest in the world and it inflicted untold suffering on the people. The people were not only disconnected from the world but it also deprived thousands of their livelihood. Most small scale businesses dependent on the service simply collapsed virtually putting their owners and the employees on the road. Education of children suffered like anything. Alongside schooling, the students have come to exceedingly rely on the internet as a critical tool of education. More so, in the absence of schooling when internet was direly needed as compensatory facility.
Looking back, it was an unprecedented step. Now the government has continued with the restriction on social media and also blacklisted a number of sites. Only whitelisted sites can be accessed. The government rationale for this is the one proferred once by the PDP-BJP government: that “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, people are willing to go without social media provided government allows them a dependable access to internet. The internet is integral to the modern life and it is inconceivable to think of going about our lives without the service. 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 is needed, the internet bans imposed during the previous unrests. The ban then didn’t make any difference to the situation on the ground. Protests went on regardless and the killings and injuries too didn’t stop. This may not have happened this time but the reasons need to be scientifically analysed and may not necessarily be the result of the suspension of internet. There is thus little justification for the indefinite 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, six month ban is tyrannical and as Supreme court observed against the fundamental rights. 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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