E-curfew In An Age Of 'Digital India'

28 September 2015
Kashmir Observer


Srinagar: As PM Modi swoons with the Indian Diaspora in the United States, charms the tech captains of the country and talks about 'Digital India', Kashmir remained under a blanket internet gag since the eve of Eid Al Azha till 8 pm (in some parts of the vale) Sunday, 27th September and till around 10 am, 28th September, 2015. The reasons trotted out by the state were that,' the internet ban was imposed in anticipation of law and order problems over Eid al Azha. It may be stated here that there indeed were apprehensions of the vale descending into violence over the auspicious day of Eid. The reasons for this pertained to the various controversies that the beef ban issue had thrown up-especially the threat by the VHP to impose a blockade on Kashmir if the beef ban issue was even broached in the Assembly. The vale of Kashmir was in this sense primed for violence -one provocative action or statement (read VHP's threat) would be counter posed by reactions (slaughter of bovines in Kashmir), and the whole state would be thrown into a violent tizzy. This was the general fear. And it is upon this fear that the internet ban was apparently premised upon. However, the blanket ban raises a set of questions: in the 21st century, where information and communication are held to be 'life blood' of societies, economies and polities, what can justify a blanket internet ban extending for days? In a connected world, where for some, the internet and the social media are, for many, the cheapest or low cost means of communicating with their loved ones, how could the ban have been imposed? And in a world where people use the internet for a whole host of social reasons, what explains the ban? All this assumes significance during the Hajj tragedy- where scores died. Numerous people from Kashmir have gone on the Hajj and their relatives and loved ones were anxious about their welfare. But because there was an internet gag, people in Kashmir could not see their loved ones on Skype, face book or other forms of media which could have reassured them. Businesses, traders and ordinary people also suffered a hit because the payments system(s) were down and out. Admittedly, the fear of violence gripping Kashmir was real but the problem or the issue was political. And apparently it was defused politically but what is rather inexplicable is the internet ban stretching over a few days. If the fear was that pictures of slaughtered bovines would have been posted on social media which would have aggravated passions elsewhere, then 'smart' and even subtle techniques that obstructed the provocative use of images or similar kind of stuff could have been employed. Instead, a blanket ban was imposed that choked off everyone's access to the internet. The police department has the resources and wherewithal to bring to bear upon the issue techniques and technology which could have precisely done this. The state by doing so revealed its tentacles and its reach by blocking internet services in an age when the democratization of information and technology has become the mantra of the 21st century. Among other things, it is not only AFSPA that is the problem that bedevils us; it is also the other extraordinary powers that the state chooses to impose that are also an issue. The internet ban falls on the spectrum of these powers. All this corresponds to something that defines the state-especially the Kashmir division of the state: that it is essentially a security state where the state looks at and defines almost everything from the prism of 'security'. What that security means is best known to the security managers of the state. This would warm the cockles of proponents of Orwellianism.