Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have allowed the continuation of voice calls, SMS and 2G internet connectivity to white-listed websites on post-paid and pre-paid mobile phones till February 24. More than 1,000 websites were recently added to the whitelist, taking the total number to 1,485 from 481.
However, the ban on social media, as well as 3G and 4G internet connectivity, will continue for another week, after which the government will further review the security situation.
The government, according to a notification by the Home Department, has also taken note of the use of virtual private networks in the Valley. The intelligence and the law enforcement agencies have revealed that these applications are being used to execute “terror activities”. They termed it as an attempt to “disturb peace” by spreading rumours that “necessitated temporary suspension of mobile data services for limited periods”.
Such an assessment of the security situation is part of the government’s weekly review as directed by the Supreme Court in January. The apex court, in its order, had asked the government to halt the indefinite internet ban, pointing out that the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression includes includes the right to receive and disseminate information. The court had also directed a review of all restrictive orders imposed within the week.
The government has since been following court orders, but this has made little difference for the general population, which has only 2G access to the internet. It has refused to increase the speed or for that matter, even restore broadband services. High-speed internet has, however, been selectively released to businesses upon signing an undertaking against “misuse”.
As things stand, the situation is likely to continue unchanged, or change with only minor modifications, for some more time. And this is not a happy situation to be in. With low-speed, erratic internet, confined to government-selected whitelisted sites and prone to frequent shutdowns when the government thinks the situation will deteriorate – which is quite often – the future looks bleak. This is certain to take a heavy toll on every aspect of life in Kashmir, including the economy and education.
In this day and age, internet is like oxygen. It is like water. Life runs on this. The economy runs on this. Once stopped or made conditional on specious grounds over an indefinite period of time, it wreaks havoc. So it is time that the government rethinks its prolonged internet ban and lifts the chokehold on the life in Kashmir.
This article first appeared on the Kashmir Observer.