Recently, when I deboarded at Delhi airport, I received a message on my phone asking me to use 4G services. This message felt like the prick of a thorn, needling a deep wound. When an organ of the body is cut, the brain keeps trying to communicate with it and we experience the pain again and again. Such was the case here, too. The message had evoked a traumatic memory (trauma literally meaning ‘wound’) that was remote and near at the same time. It had connecting me back to my Valley, which I had left only an hour ago. It had evoked a pain that until then I had experienced in the collective but which now I felt as an individual. It evoked all the memories of August 5 when Kashmir was crippled and robbed of its autonomy, if there was any in the real sense, and the state of affairs that followed—an unprecedented lockdown, the snapping of all communication channels, the relic of which is the extant proscription and embargo on 4G internet.
The government seems not just reluctant but firm to have the ban on 4G internet in Kashmir forever now. Its approach seems to be like a snake biting its own tail. Losing count of how many times it has extended the ban on 4G internet, the government has again and again tested the patience of the general public. Even though the government is well aware of the relative stasis, particularly in Kashmir, that has prevailed for a year and more now—perhaps that might be due to the unprecedented double lockdown brought about by Covid-19—the government is still holding high-speed internet in abeyance. Pushing the brake deeper on VoLTE services till 6 February, 2021, the Home Ministry repeated the same monotonous explanation: “JK has been battling the menace of militancy and in view of the well-founded apprehensions about inflammatory and seditious propaganda… limited restrictions on high-speed internet mobile services have been placed….” However, would Home Minister Amit Shah still call it a propaganda if people raise their voices against the fake encounters that took place recently in JK? Notwithstanding the fact that multiples of them have happened in the past, the alleged Lawaypora fake encounter in December and the proven one in Amshipora in July are recent examples. Jammu and Kashmir Police have already filed the chargesheet against an army captain (and two civilians) for allegedly abducting and murdering three labourers in a staged gunfight in Amshipora.
In its ‘repetition compulsion’ of enlarging the imposed restrictions, the government seems to have enacted a latent framework working underneath the surface politics. It seems to have launched a concerted move to demean and demoralise the inhabitants of JK. The ban has humiliated people in general. It has made them feel they are at the mercy of some external authority. And this underlined framework works to make people realise that they cannot be treated equally in the professed largest democracy of the world. George Orwell succinctly put it: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. He exposed the hypocrisy of governments and their systematic abuse of power, logic and language. Nevertheless, it seems that in our case, some animals are more ‘unequal’ than others, a reverse pattern of the Orwellian pronouncement played by the government vis-a-vis JK. Whatsoever be the case, one cannot be blind to the fact that inequality prevails.
It is an irony that while India is planning to launch 5G, JK has to reel under the plodder 2G. Recently, former CM and National Conference MP Farooq Abdullah raised the same issue before the government: “The Prime Minster is saying 5G is coming in India while we are deprived of 4G. May he come and live here after leaving the chair and see how we are living under 2G,” he said. While it is not difficult to gauge whether confining a region to 2G and embarking the rest of the country on the dream of 5G is a service or disservice to the curbed population, the words of Abdullah are more than the apparent speech. For some time it has seemed that the Central Government’s intention is to deviate the spotlight from the main issues—like restoration of the pre-August 4 situation that the PAGD has been emphasising on and of which Farooq Abdullah seems to be the backbone—to the mere demand of restoration of 4G services.
The sliding rank of India in the global Press Freedom Index is largely attributed to the restrictions over internet imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. It now ranks 142 out of 180 nations. The World Press Freedom Index said, “There have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials”. Internet is like a staple food in the modern world. Without it you would seem to have entered a subsistence crisis. Business, social awareness, health sector and particularly education have developed a dependence on it. Almost all the transactions of the world depend on internet. Health facilities could be utilised more adequately through the use of internet, at least amid the Covid-19 crisis that has been there for a year now. When children have been restricted from schools and left to virtual classrooms, internet seems to be the only way forward that could be relied upon. But all has been zoomed out to the miniscule 2G speed—the experience of ‘dim spaces’ and ‘hazy vision’ of a half-closed eye. “The children of Jammu and Kashmir have already lost two academic years because it is impossible to conduct online classes using video-conferencing tools such as Zoom or WebEx at 2G mobile internet speed”, states the fresh petition filed before Supreme Court on 22 January by the Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir. By restoring 4G services in JK, the government should address the need of the hour amid the general Covid-19 restrictions.
The writer is studying for a PhD at AMU. [email protected]