What is Behind Govt’s Ban on 4G in J&K?

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Riyaz Wani

INTERNET ban was imposed on August 5 last year and eight months on there is no indication that the government is anywhere close to restoring the service fully in Kashmir, even after Coronavirus pandemic.

Government’s defence, order after order of continuing the 4G ban, is that it is necessary to ensure peace in the region. In an earlier order, the government said that doing so was absolutely necessary “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and for maintaining public order”.

But the truth is Kashmir has been peaceful for the past seven months. And there is not even a distant sign that the Valley faces any immediate security challenge. Apart from small protests in the first month after the revocation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, Kashmir has been calm. By December last even the hartal came to an end and the daily life has since returned to normal. There has been no protest or a stone throwing incident since. Besides the recent release of Abdullahs has done nothing to upset the public order contrary to government charges against them when they were in detention.

No doubt, there is an undercurrent of unease in the Valley but that has been there in the best of times and a fact of life over the past three decades. Besides, the COVID-19 outbreak and the enormity of crisis it has triggered  has, for once, put the conflict in the Valley in the background.

So to say that 4G will pose threat to security doesn’t hold water.  Besides, even if a few people are suspected to “misuse” the internet as claimed by the government, it doesn’t justify the collective punishment. More so, at a time when health of people is at risk.

So, in perpetuating ban on 4G, the  administration has not only defied common sense but also revealed its imperviousness to the growing public clamour for restoration of 4G. That too, despite the critical need for a high-speed connection to keep people informed about the developments related to Coronavirus.

What is more, the existing 2G internet will continue to remain confined to only post-paid sim card holders and for fixed line internet, connectivity will be subject to mac-binding. This means there is still no internet for a vast section of pre-paid sim card holders.

This has left people baffled and angry. On social media, people have reacted to the development with shock and often with sarcasm.

“To avoid any mortal danger to India’s soVIRGINITY, Internet shall continue to remain on 2G ventilator in Kashmir,” posted one S on Twitter.

“General knowledge question in school textbooks, in 2050: When the entire world was battling a #Covid19India pandemic in 2020, which country still denied full-speed internet to the besieged people in #Kashmir?,” tweeted Majid Maqbool, a senior journalist. 

In the run up to the weekly review of the ban on 4G on March 26, top J&K leaders including newly released Dr Farooq Abdullah and the son Omar Abdullah had sought lifting of ban on 4G, so had the civil society groups including the students who need high-speed internet to study and also access study material on the websites of their respective schools.

“For a week we’re planning to start online classes for students of Kashmir hoping 4G would be resumed considering this calamity but government of Kashmir isn’t in mood to help anyone,” tweeted one Imbesat Ahmad, a founder of a coaching institute in Srinagar.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International too had joined its voice to the chorus for restoration of 4G to access health and safety-related information. “There is a growing anxiety around the pandemic and unwarranted restrictions on content and dissemination of information only stands to add to the panic,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

 

The government, however, has only chosen to do exactly the opposite and extend the ban. Why? There is no rational explanation for this. It is also difficult to comprehend the mindset behind this thinking. Only credible explanation is that the government seems to draw some kind of sadistic pleasure from inconveniencing people of J&K.

 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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