Curious case of not restoring 4G in Kashmir
There is a growing anxiety around the global pandemic and unwarranted restrictions on information dissemination only stands to add to the panic, Amnesty International India’s Avinash Kumar argues. The government, however, has only chosen to do exactly the opposite and extend the ban. Why?
On Thursday, J&K administration once again extended the ban on 4G internet by a week, despite the critical need for a high-speed connection to keep people informed about the developments related to Coronavirus. The administration has not only defied common sense but also revealed its imperviousness to the growing clamour for the restoration of 4G within the union territory.
What is more, the existing 2G internet will continue to remain confined to only postpaid SIM cardholders and for fixed-line internet, connectivity will be subject to mac-binding (it allows us to reserve static IP assignment for a client). This means there is still no internet for a vast section of prepaid SIM cardholders.
This has left people baffled and angry. On social media, people have reacted to the development with shock and often with sarcasm.
“General knowledge question in school textbooks, in 2050: When the entire world was battling a #Covid19India pandemic in 2020, which country still denied full-speed internet to the besieged people in #Kashmir?,” tweeted Majid Maqbool, a senior journalist.
In the run-up to the weekly review of the ban on 4G on March 26, top J&K leaders including newly released Dr Farooq Abdullah and son Omar Abdullah had sought the lifting of the ban on 4G, so had the civil society groups including students who need high-speed internet to study and also access study material on the websites of their respective schools.
“For a week we're planning to start online classes for students of Kashmir hoping 4G would be resumed considering this calamity but govt. of Kashmir isn't in the mood to help anyone,” tweeted one Imbesat Ahmad, a founder of a coaching institute in Srinagar.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International too had joined its voice to the chorus for the restoration of 4G to access health and safety-related information. "There is a growing anxiety around the pandemic and unwarranted restrictions on content and dissemination of information only stand to add to the panic," said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.
The government, however, has only chosen to do exactly the opposite and extend the ban. Why? There is no rational explanation for this. In an earlier order, the government had said that doing so was absolutely necessary “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and for maintaining public order".
What this means is that the government is prioritizing the security over the health emergency. But there is not even a distant sign that Kashmir faces any immediate security challenge. Apart from protests in the first month after the revocation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, Kashmir has been peaceful over the past seven months. By December last even the hartal had come to an end and daily life has since returned to normal. Besides, the recent release of the Abdullahs has done nothing to upset the public order, contrary to government charges against them when they were in detention.
“It has been months since the Valley has witnessed a protest or a stone-throwing incident. So, to say that 4G will pose a threat to security doesn't hold water,” reads an editorial in a local daily. “Besides, even if a few people are suspected to "misuse" the internet it doesn't justify the collective punishment, more so, at a time when the health of people is at risk”.
But this logic has yet to force a rethink by the government. Why? There is no answer.
“Why should the government expect the people to protest against withdrawal of Article 370 when they are engaged in a life and death battle against a deadly contagion,” said a civil society activist who didn’t want to be identified. “It is difficult to comprehend the mindset behind this thinking. Only credible explanation is that the government draws some sadistic pleasure from inconveniencing people in J&K”.