The authorities have allowed the continuation of voice calls, SMS and 2G internet connectivity to white-listed sites on post-paid and pre-paid mobile phones till February 24. Also, the more than 1,000 websites have been added to the internet whitelist. This has taken the total number from 481 to 1,485 sites that people can watch. However, the social media ban will continue. So will the ban on the 3G and 4G for another week when the government will further review the security situation.
The government, according to a notification by the home department, has also taken note of the use of Virtual Private Networks in the Valley. The intelligence and the law enforcement agencies have revealed that the applications are being used to execute “terror activities”. They termed it an attempt to “disturb peace” by spreading rumours which “necessitated temporary suspension of mobile data services for limited periods”.
Such assessment of the security situation is part of the weekly review by the government as directed by the Supreme Court in January. The apex court in its order had asked the government to halt the practice of indefinite imposition of ban on internet pointing out that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression includes includes the right to recieve and disseminate information.The court had also directed review of all restrictive orders imposed within a week.
The government has since been following the court orders but this has made little redeeming difference on the ground for the general population which has only 2G access to Internet. And the government has so far refused to increase the speed or for that matter even restore the broadband service. The high-speed internet has, however, been selectively released to businesses upon signing an undertaking against “misuse”.
As things stand, the situation is likely to continue unchanged, or change with only minor modifications, for some more time. And this is not a happy situation to be in. Low-speed, erratic internet confined to government selected whitelisted sites and prone to frequent shutdowns whenever government thinks the situation is about to deteriorate – and which is quite often – the future looks bleak. This is certain to take a heavy toll on economy, education and almost every other aspect of life. In this day and age, internet is like oxygen. It is like water. Life runs on this. Economy runs on this. Once stopped or made conditional on specious grounds over an indefinite period of time, it wreaks havoc. So, it is time that the government rethinks its prolonged internet ban and lift the chokehold on the life in Kashmir.