LONGEST CYBER CURFEW

The internet ban is not related to security situation but aimed at imposing prolonged silence
Five months on, the longest ever internet shutdown in the world continues unabated with Indian government showing no signs of relenting and restoring the basic communication services in Kashmir. Media persons in Kashmir on Monday got together at a seminar to condemn the communications lock down that is impeding the circulation of information and virtually throttling media services and journalism. However, the shutdown of the internet and the prolonged ban on telephone communications, which remain only partially restored, has impacted almost every profession.

Besides, it has impacted students, health-services and social life. Any denial on this front cannot wish away the manner in which the internet blockade is taking a toll on the local economy and has led to the loss of thousands of jobs. The loss of connectivity in the valley because of the shutdown has been devastating to the local economy. The business and trade organisations in Kashmir are already on record about the immense economic losses due to the shutdowns and the internet blockade in the region. It is needless to point out that such losses incurred due to harsh clampdown of the government undermine both prime minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ slogan as well as the promises of bringing in economic prosperity and development post-abrogation of Article 370. Instead the back-bone of the existing economy, which was fairly above the national average before August 5, has been broken.

The assurances of the government on all fronts have been hollow. When the lock down started, the government had maintained that the restrictions including communication ban would remain temporary and had to be taken in view of the security situation. Though, ever since, some of the restrictions have been eased, they haven’t been totally lifted. While security situation cannot be used as a pretext for depriving public of democratic rights and civil liberties, it is even worse to legitimize the prolongation of such curbs on similar grounds. The continuation of partial internet ban in Jammu region, which has posed no security situation even punctures the logic of this narrative.

The dangers of legitimizing the internet ban are now being more frightfully felt across the country. During the recent upsurge of the public including students against Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in different parts of India, the government has imposed internet bans, though much shorter lived, to thwart the protests. While such tactics may have not worked, the extension of the policy of internet bans from Kashmir to rest of India demonstrates that the government is using communication deprivation not to ward off security threats but as a tool to scuttle dissent and gag voices from Kashmir to rest of India. The design to perpetuate communication clampdown is less to do with some security anxieties and more to do with the desire to gag the dissenting voices. The continued imprisonment of those who have refused to sign the bond of not criticizing Article 370 abrogation is yet another sign of how the government continues to control the narrative in Kashmir and suppress the people by creating artificially induced silence.

The internet shutdown is aimed at not only restricting communication within Jammu and Kashmir but to restrict the local public’s communication link with the outside world. The media is one of the worst hit by the communication clampdown because media, which is a vital source of information, is connected to every sphere of life. By crippling it and by controlling the media through limited connectivity under government surveillance is the easiest way of clamping down on all the voices and making them invisible. Five months on, it is clear, the communication ban is aimed at only amplifying that silence as an endorsement of what the government is doing.