Srinagar: The government’s blocking of the internet before the by-polls for Srinagar parliamentary seat could not prevent violent protests and killing of eight youths on polling day, deflating the claims of police and government agencies that the internet ‘instigates violence’ in Kashmir.
The government had blocked the internet, including broadband services, claiming it will ensure that youth “don’t mobilise to support stone-pelting” and to “prevent rumours”.
Despite the internet ban, eight youths lost their lives and more than 150 were wounded after government forces fired bullets and pellets on protestors on Sunday. Violence and protests were reported from across the three central Kashmir districts that come under the Srinagar parliamentary seat.
The level of violence was such that the Election Commission of India has ordered a re-poll in 38 polling stations that were burnt or damaged by people.
When asked about the logic behind the internet blockade when it could not prevent violence and deaths, Director General of Police SP Vaid said, “If the internet had been operational, the scale of the violence would have been much bigger.”
“There are mischievous elements sitting across the border. If the internet would have been on, they would have instigated the youth for more violence. No Kashmiri would like to see more violence. Keeping in view the public order, we pulled the internet down,” Vaid justified his decision.
Violence broke out on the streets on Sunday even after the arrest of hundreds of youth in the days leading up to the election. Besides arresting the youth, the government also put pro-freedom leaders in jail or under house arrest.
Interestingly, on April 7, Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu had reviewed security arrangements made for “hassle-free and smooth conduct of the elections” and had expressed satisfaction.
Reacting to the internet ban in the wake of violence and deaths on polling day, Shantmanu said that internet ban should be used as “the last resort”.
“Most of the times, such bans do not serve any purpose. They should be the last resort,” Shantmanu said.
He said that he held a meeting with senior police officials over the internet blockade issue. “We discussed this issue. Next time we will strategise in such a way that no harm or inconvenience is caused to the public. Besides, we have decided to restore the internet this evening,” Shantmanu said.
When Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Basheer Khan, was asked why violence had taken place despite the blockade of internet, he refused to reply. “I cannot answer such intricate questions,” Khan said. “I can only tell you when the internet will be restored. I hope it will be restored by Tuesday evening.”
Broadband internet services were indeed restored on Tuesday evening.
For the past two weeks, the government had been making a case to block the internet in Kashmir. “I can tell you with certainty that there is misuse of social media by elements inimical to peace in the Valley and to our country,” the DGP had earlier told the media in Srinagar.
According to media reports, the police had claimed that militant groups had control over WhatsApp groups, each having more than 250 members. They further claimed that the local media had blocked over 10,000 Facebook accounts and 500 WhatsApp groups, tracing connections with militant groups operating with the help of Pakistan.
Even Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed on the floor of Parliament on April 1 that a new “new trend” had emerged in Kashmir, where social media was being used by groups based in Pakistan to direct protest activity.
“I will appeal to youths not to be misled by Pakistan. Some social media applications like WhatsApp and Facebook are used to gather youths at places of encounter. These groups are based in Pakistan,” Singh had said.