Why flaunt "Digital India" when internet is your biggest fear?

10/18/2017

Internet ban in Kashmir
Cartoon by Mir Suhail Qadri depicts internet bans in Kashmir
The valley of Kashmir is once again making it to news headlines in international media due to mass protests. Although this time the reason for such protests may be the incidents of braid chopping but then, anything that people here feel is a 'conspiracy' of the state or its agencies has the potential to trigger an uprising.

The various voices from the government which supported the 'mass hysteria' theory have only worsened the situation. Few other voices which claimed "no one was behind braid chopping", suggesting the phenomenon as a by-product of black magic have only prompted people calling the government as 'superstitious'.

In a highly militarised conflict zone like Kashmir where the security agencies including state police are in close proximity and jointly take part in anti-militancy operations, the inability shown and the desire "of a magic wand" expressed by Director General of Police, S. P. Vaid in order to nab the culprits has surprised one and all. This, I am sorry to say, is nothing less than a cruel joke!

What the government has done instead is that it has also started 'chopping'. So, braid choppers have made the state government into an "internet chopper". In fact, PDP-BJP coalition government's rule in Jammu & Kashmir has the honour of enforcing most number of internet shutdowns in the state that also in times of much boasted transition towards a cashless economy!

The suspension of high speed mobile data services by the government has drawn criticism from all sections of society with people calling it an attempt to push the people back to stone age.

Officials from the state police say that the suspension of 3G/4G internet is ordered due to fear of “law and order problem” in view of incidents of braid cutting. One of the officials from a telecom company called it a "new strategy" of the police to prevent people from uploading or sharing videos. However, this "new strategy" only serves the purpose of hiding their failure and inability in nabbing the braid cutters.

These days, businesses are totally dependent on internet but the biggest hurdle that prevents them from flourishing in the state is these frequent restrictions. Many emerging entrepreneurs have already shifted outside, thus the state keeps losing economically also.

While the promotion of Kashmir's tourism is being done at huge costs to the state exchequer, the tourists are often left disappointed when they experience the erratic mobile services. Again, ministers from the coalition government accuse Indian national media of running a negative campaign about Kashmir but then fail to ensure uninterrupted mobile services!

The telecommunication companies operating in the state say that they have signed an agreement with the state government which gives the power to the authorities to regulate mobile calling and internet services. But the thing is that they are also obliged to provide the very services to their subscribers for which they charge them.

Despite internet suspension, subscribers have to pay bills as per their monthly selected plans which is oppressive. Firstly, they face inconvenience of not being able to use the services and secondly, they are also charged!

It is an irony that these service providers charge for high speed internet plans but provide data services that can't even be categorised as 2G. They even snap the services altogether whenever the authorities feel that bans can come to their rescue in so called 'law and order situations'.

Internet is a tool of masses to appreciate and criticise governments and their policies. But in Jammu and Kashmir, the government keeps looking at internet through the prism of "security" & "law and order".

There are certain chances that the internet may be used by anti-social elements in order to vitiate the already volatile atmosphere but there is law to tackle those elements. The frequent bans or slowing down internet speed is no answer as it means the fringe elements hold majority of people hostage.

The state government needs to realise the seriousness of braid chopping incidents as soon as possible. The state police also needs to stop being apologetic for want of evidence and should make serious efforts to nab the culprits. Doing that requires moving beyond announcing hefty amounts as reward for information regarding braid choppers!

We have a right to criticise the government for its insane policies through the medium of internet. But, only anger brews up when the very government bars internet on the one hand and flaunts "Digital India" on the other! Internet is undoubtedly the biggest fear that the coalition government needs to tackle!

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