The ban on Facebook and You Tube, besides slowing down of the broadband are unjustified and unconstitutional attempts by the government to gag the entire population of Jammu and Kashmir in the name of maintaining law and order. The people of India declared in the Preamble of the Constitution, which they gave unto themselves their resolve to secure to all the citizens liberty of thought and expression. This resolve is reflected in Article 19(1)(a) which is one of the Articles found in Part III of the Constitution, which enumerates the Fundamental Rights. Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech on grounds of security, law and order, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence. Reasonable restrictions on these grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action. However, in practice, quite often these excuses have been used both through creation of laws and even in absolute contravention of the Indian constitution, simply through executive orders, to scuttle dissent and browbeat those opposed to the policies and actions, often of the state. The trouble with the present decision to ban these sites and slow down the entire internet services is that there are no express orders. While government has gone into complete denial about the affair, the service providers have stated that the state government indeed has given them verbal orders for the clampdown on net users in the name of maintaining law and order.
There is a method in madness. There appears to be none in the present case of ban which is reported to have been necessitated by a provocative sub-standard film, by an American film maker, that went viral on the internet last month. It makes little sense that while the United States government has chosen to protect the film maker under the first amendment of the American constitution, even as the law makes an exception about hate speech, Jammu and Kashmir government has not only blocked the film from You Tube and Facebook, they’ve decided to punish the entire population by banning these sites and slowing down the services. This so, when there was no case of violence against the film, though there were massive protests for a few days after the film first surfaced. The rationale used for banning, therefore, appears quite unsubstantiated with there being no virtual threat of any law and order problem in this part of the world.
It is quite probable that the ban is inspired by much more than a simple pre-emptive steps to maintain law and order. This is not for the first time that such curbs have been put on the fundamental rights ofthe people of the state, who have already been hit by the SMS ban, now converted into a partial ban. Free speech has been gagged by stalling any kind of protest, whether on the streets or on facebook. Young boys and girls have been picked up from their homes for airing their views on facebook and twitter, ever since 2010, and some even detained for prolonged periods for crimes that government fails to specify. It is clear that the establishment has scant regard for free speech and free ideas.
Like George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, free thinking itself is becoming a crime and individuals and groups targeted for ‘thought crime.’ Though freedom of expression is a double edged sword and cannot be used for reasons that are already included in the clause 2 of Article 19, guaranteeing this freedom, these restrictions cannot be used unjustifiably invoked for scuttling political dissent, as a pure form of vengeance against people because they don’t feel a part of the Indian mainstream or to oppress the people and strengthen the foundations of an authoritarian regime, not a democratic one.