It betrays New Delhi’s lack of trust in Kashmiris and violates the principle of equal rights for all the citizens

Gagging communication network

It may as well have been a case of inclement weather conditions but an abrupt and complete halt of internet services and disruption of phone services in Kashmir Valley on Tuesday evening after two days of heavy snow, it wasn’t quite without reason that everybody jumped to conclusions that the ban was a government initiated move to stop flow of information of some disaster. A region excessively used to whimsical and arbitrary official decisions of selectively invoked partial or total ban on mobile services, internet and other communication channels including television becomes habitual of smelling conspiracy in everything, even where it does not exist. Rumour mongering and an obsessive sense of insecurity are natural consequences of such policies of gagging the people at every small pretext or no pretext at all. Though the reasons for Tuesday’s sudden wipe-out of internet services and simultaneous disruption of telephone lines is not known, it is difficult to believe, not only in view of the history of such disruptions but also because a reasonably fine connectivity of both internet and telecommunication services totally collapsed for a few hours within a matter of minutes, that yesterday’s mess was entirely a making of the heavy snowfall. Given the backdrop of recent reports of Indian establishment planning tighter control over internet and mobile services in Jammu and Kashmir, and once again revealing equal rights for people of this state as enjoyed by citizens elsewhere in the country, it is difficult not to see politics in any break in communications.

The entire state and particularly Kashmir Valley have been witness to a host of such occasions when government has exercised greater control and surveillance over their communication channels and abruptly banned services. It took almost a decade after most parts of India had the benefits of the mobile phone service for this privilege to make inroads into this state. Some years ago a ban on pre-paid mobiles greatly affected a large section of the population of Jammu and Kashmir, both in terms of inconvenience and financeswhere as the business houses connected with mobile communications found it a golden opportunity to make a fast buck at the expense of the harassed consumers who were forced to convert their pre-paid mobiles to post paid ones at conditions and terms which seem evidently unjust and unfair. It takes any situation for a government obsessed with its law and order rhetoric to clamp down with a blanket ban on the SMS services, facebook or internet services – whether it was Amarnath land row, 2010 killings or Afzal Guru hanging in an unsuccessful bid to keep people uninformed and disconnected, over and above the repressive measures with barbed wires, barricades and declared or undeclared curfews on the streets. 

Such unjustified bans serve to cause more than just the simple inconvenience and loss to the people. These selective bans and gags, much against the official claims of normalcy, give an impression that all is not well with Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, they amounts to branding the entire population of the state as virtual suspects, which further adds to the atmosphere of mistrust and deepening alienation. They also reveal New Delhi’s inability to grasp the pulse of the people and instead misconstrue that repressive measures indeed would enable them to win over the confidence of the people. If the complicated Kashmir issue with its international and domestic intricacies has to be resolved, such an attitude must be shunned.

Gags on people and curtailing communication means neither serves anyone’s commercial interest of political ones, much less be of any help from the security point of view. However, far from doing away with such policies of gags selectively chosen for Jammu and Kashmir, the union defence ministry, using the pretext of exploitation of internet based communication by militant groups, has batted for more restrictions in the state’s communication network. Not only does this new move seek to keep Jammu and Kashmir out of the loop of the country’s national mobile number portability in the territory but also totally bar the internet mobile services by banning the GPRS. The move is unjustifiable when misuse of similar technology elsewhere in the country with high crime rate and incidence of terror acts is not argued to be as detrimental to the security of the place. Besides, such moves principally violate the equality enjoyed by all citizens of the country as per the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution.