“Internet ban is a human rights violation. The Supreme Court said that the access to the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution. But in Kashmir, authorities do not consider it so. The authorities cite many implausible and preposterous reasons for this Internet ban.”
Internet ban in Kashmir is a norm now. Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, the authorities would snap mobile connectivity and Internet services intermittently citing security reasons. But with the abrogation of Article 370 on 5th August 2019, Kashmir has remained cut off from the rest of India and the world for continuous eight months because of communication blockade and all that. The authorities on the dictates of the establishment cornered Kashmiris with every which way. Snapping communication conduits of the people is an act of colonial oppression. Had not there be a fear of dissent on the part of the people, the authorities would not have hampered the Internet connectivity! Abrogation of Article 370 without due consultations of the people of Kashmir is nothing but a kind of imperialistic move on the part of the people who are ensconced on the cozy and high profile seats at the Centre.
The Apex Court of the country has time and again issued orders for the restoration of high speed Internet in Jammu and Kashmir but the authorities have always given a deaf ear to it. The authorities are playing a kind of delaying tactics. They keep on deferring the restoration of the high speed Internet without any ha and hum. Deferment of this kind is a sheer intent to oppress people mentally. Mental oppression of the people is worse than the physical oppression. David Kaye, the U.N special rapporteur on freedom of expression called this internet blockage “draconian” and “worse than collective punishment” Without Internet, as we know, life is almost impossible. These days every institution is largely dependent on the Internet. Health Department, Education Department etc. cannot provide services to people without Internet. Major tests conducted in the Health Department are done online. How can this particular department do these tests when Internet works but at a snail’s pace! Because of this, both doctors and patients suffer. The lockdown because of the pandemic has made life complex and complicated.
The Education sector of Jammu and Kashmir has suffered a lot because of this Internet blockade. These days we have a trend of online classes throughout India. The authorities have directed teachers for the online classes. How is it possible in Jammu and Kashmir where people are entitled only to 2G Internet speed! Where we are not able to browse a simple file! Where we are not in a position to open our email because of very slow Internet speed!The Internet ban is a human rights violation. The Supreme Court said that the access to the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution. But in Kashmir, authorities do not consider it so. The authorities cite many implausible and preposterous reasons for this Internet ban. Recently NITI Aayog member V.K. Sarswat said that Internet suspension in J&K does not have any impact on the economy, as people use it there ‘to watch dirty films online’. This kind of statement is only meant to defame people of the valley. The statement further connotes a kind of mind set of Mr. Sarswat and his ilk.
The authorities are so callous and indifferent to the woes and miseries of people here that even after the country wide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendera Modi, high Internet has not been restored in Kashmir. In this lockdown, Internet is one of the means of survival for people, in a way. People can use Internet to know about the measures and precautions that are to be taken to prevent themselves from the virus. But in Kashmir people have been relegated to dark ages. People in Kashmir are not able to use email etc. because of Internet ban. Students are not able to apply for the courses offered by the Universities both at the State and National level. The students preparing for competitive exams are badly affected. The Internet outage has forced many people to move out of the valley at very dear costs. The students are suffering from mental, physical and emotional unease because of this.
Internet is a means through which students can explore about the career opportunities but the Internet ban in Kashmir has put a permanent lockdown on the career avenues of students. The research scholars enrolled in different universities of the valley were badly affected by this Internet ban. I myself suffered a huge loss with reference to Phd research work. Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, I had communicated two of my research papers to the reputed International Journals for publication. But as the Internet was suspended, I could not get any response with regard to the manuscripts. After five long and traumatic months, I boarded a flight for Delhi to resume my research work At Aligarh Muslim University. On landing at Delhi airport, as I switched on my mobile data, a flood of emails flooded my mobile phone. As I sorted my emails, I found a response email to my communicated manuscripts. The response was sent by the chief editor of the journal. The duration for the editing of my manuscripts was only twenty days, when already five months had gone by. I could not publish my research papers well in time. The same story could have happened to many researchers of the valley as well. How can the students of the valley compete at National or International level, when they do not have access to the Internet!
The prolonged Internet ban in the valley has left the lives of people, their jobs and their economy in ruins. Many software engineers and those who provide online services have been rendered jobless. And India is the biggest democracy and brazenly claims Kashmir as its “Integral part”.
Postscript: A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess. Philip Randolph
*(Bilal Ahmad Dar is a Research Scholar at the Department of English, AMU and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)