Lift Communication Blackout

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Government has once again plunged Kashmir into a communication blackout following the killing Hizbul Mujahideen operational chief Riyaz Naikoo. Since Wednesday afternoon, Kashmir has suspended mobile internet and calling services including even the sms. There’s thus a sense of de javu. We are back to the morning of August 5 when the government enforced a Valley-wide security lockdown and a communication blockade in the wake of the revocation of Article 370 that granted Kashmir autonomy under the constitution. Suspension of communication has become a handy tool with the government to maintain peace following a development that is likely to make people angry. Naikoo’s killing has triggered protests in Awantipora and in some parts of the Valley. There are reports of injuries suffered by the protesters.

By clamping down on mobile internet and calling services, the government has sought to pre-empt the spread of protests. And it has valid reasons for it. The killing of the popular Hizb commander Burhan Wani had touched off a Valley-wide unrest in the Valley that led to killing of around hundred people and blinding of several hundred. The unrest had continued for six months. Even that time also, the government had imposed a communication blackout – albeit, leaving the calling services open – but that had done little to reign in the situation. This time too, there have been protests in South Kashmir despite the suspension of internet.

That said, a sweeping communication gag for general masses at a time when we are grappling with the pandemic is an extreme step and uncalled for. It has disrupted the administrative efforts to counter the spread of Covid-19. Given its population versus Covid-19 ratio, Kashmir is among the worst affected places in India. Despite more than a month of lockdown, the authorities are far from flattening the curve. Now, with suspension of means of communication, the efforts to reach the potential Covid-19 suspects have come to a halt. Does Government have no concern for hundreds of patients who may be in need to be ferried to hospitals. And over and above this all, people have no way to contact their loved ones in hospitals and quarantine centres. They cannot visit them due to the need to maintain social distancing.

One hopes that the government realizes the difficulties faced by the common man in the absence of phones and internet and takes steps to restore them. Least it can do is to open up phone lines. Prolonging the communication gag as was done after withdrawal of Article 370 would be tantamount to playing with the lives of people in the time of a pandemic.

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