Businesses and public sector services across Kashmir were badly hit, & still as the ban on Internet services — especially prepaid 2G, 3G mobile internet service — remains suspended for the seventh month in a row. The ban is likely to be effective for some more time. As the authorities are in no mood to restore it. Education, banking, business, trading, travel, manufacturing and other services that depend on Internet connectivity bore are affected due to the ban. Only Postpaid mobile and broadband services have been working effectively. Gone are the days, when people in Kashmir would use prepaid mobile internet to check latest news, text, email and post minute to minute updates. The last time I accessed internet was on July 8, 2016. Since then, I was unable to use the service again. I almost missed my exams, & couldn’t apply for a job. I have no access to news and current affairs. Thanks to the lonely listener, Gul Kak (an avid listener of BBC), who told me about Donald Trump (Asli – Uniquely American) taking oath as 45th President of USA, & something like ‘Dambaile’ Jallikattu. Irony is, with lot to chew on, government keeps mum on the issue – reluctant. Rumour, the catalyst of public unrest, needs to be countered with facts and information, not bans and silence.
It is not a special occasion. It is not my birthday. It is not Valentine’s Day. I barely remember these occasions at the best of times. It is actually a dull, colorless, a non-internet day. Seventh month unplugged from the internet — re (discovering) how life used to be when everyone was offline. But nobody wants to live in the past. And I too don’t want to. I am badly missing the huge “hive mind”, called the internet, in which nearly every data about our past and present is stored. Living a month without the internet would not have been difficult for a person that was living 200 years earlier. But living six months (not a joke), without the internet is like hell for a person living today. Internet has become an indispensable part of our everyday life and since it became available to the vast majority of people on this part of the world as well, we spend a good time online. Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are the watercoolers of our times. Business and education are highly dependent on internet. On one side, India is going smart, digital, cashless, & transforming progressively. But on the other side, Kashmirs are barred, not allowed to access the internet, at least. To get or not to get benefited from the govt. services was a secondary thing.
In Kashmir, mobile and internet bans are a routine part of life. Every Independence Day, every Republic Day, every time there is the possibility of resistance, channels of communication are blocked. The cell phone towers themselves became a site of conflict in the recent past. Clamping down on communication has psychological costs beyond the immediate conflagration. Kashmiris have accepted that communication is just another one of the many freedoms that the state will take away from them. They are getting used to this new era of restrictions. Besides, bans won’t stop rumours. JK government needs to find other ways to curb the growth of misinformation. It needs to make space for these healing processes, instead of being afraid of smoke and mirrors.
Although, the internet is valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. It is inseparable from freedom of expression and a ‘ basic human right’ to United Nations. Living disconnected from the internet in a society where everyone is online 24×7 is a tough ride, impossible. Internet ban isn’t good. It is a bad idea. It is unpleasant, and uncomfortable. Enough is enough. Govt. should reconsider the decision, lift the unjust ban and resume the service in the valley now. I mean now. Needless to say, I will be excited to be back.
(Gowhar Naz is a Student of Disaster Management at University of Kashmir and hails from Lolab Valley, Kashmir. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org)