More than a week after government restored a severely constrained access to internet, people are finding out that it has made little difference to their lives. A 2G connection has turned out to be just enough to access email. It is not enough to even open the sites whitelisted by the government. On the other hand, government has not restored the broadband service which although also expected to be similarly restrained would at least have had a better signal strength. Until that happens, the 2G mobile service hardly addresses communication blackout that was in force for the past six months, billed as the world’s longest internet blockade in a democracy.
As of now there’s no telling when the government will improve the internet speed or when the broadband service to homes will be restored. There’s another hitch too. Even if the broadband is restored, the check on the number of websites one can view defeats the very purpose of higher speed.
True, people are trying to get around the government restrictions by instituting the Virtual Private Networks (VPN). But this method too isn’t the solution for most of the people.
The government begun easing the ban on internet after the Supreme Court directed it to review all the restrictions in the union territory. The apex court said the access to the internet is a fundamental right. Ever since the government has begun a gradual easing of the internet ban. But as things have turned out, this isn’t such an easing too.
And this is inflicting a terrible economic cost on Kashmir and almost wrecking education of the children. There are hundreds of businesses in Kashmir which run on internet and which have suffered as a result. While the government has recently selectively restored broadband to big business houses and institutions, it hasn’t done so to thousands of individuals who run their business through broadband. For example, those who help students with filling of application forms, travel agents etc. As a result, thousands of people have lost their livelihood and don’t have expertise and resources to switch to businesses not dependent on internet.
Mercifully, the government has finally restored broadband to media houses – albeit, with conditions attached. For example, the persistence with ban on social media is detrimental to a media organization and journalists. The media profession is inextricably integrated with social media. It expands the reach and penetration of the content generated by a media organization and journalists as a whole. The government, therefore, needs to rethink the internet ban in its entirety. Six months ban is the longest denial of what the apex court termed as a fundamental right. Kashmir has been largely calm during this period as acknowledged by the government itself. It is time that the government too decides to relax its stranglehold on the freedoms of the people.