Mobile telephony trickles back into Kashmir, but the scarcity is still grim

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On the heels of lifting a travel advisory for students and pilgrims to stay away from Kashmir, on Monday government restored postpaid mobile services in the region. This is a significant personal and commercial relief, after 72 days of going without. But the bulk of subscribers have prepaid connections and their services are yet to be restored. It is also not known when Internet will be restored.

First they have to pay the cellphone bills
(Srinagar; photo by Atul Loke/The New York Times)

If mobiles and Internet were withdrawn from your life and mine, it would feel like the stone age. That India has the world’s highest data usage per smartphone is a telling indicator of how attached we have become to these services. This is not just about entertainment. This is about the necessities now.  Like doing banking, getting married, registering for competitive exams, availing health insurance, reporting emergencies, and running businesses – including tourism.

“I assure you that it won’t take more than four months to normalise the abnormal situation that has persisted there for forty years,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday. Keeping this promise will not be easy. In fact, the very difficulty of it has led to the suspension of internet and mobile services and other restrictions since Article 370 was nullified and the state of J&K split into two UTs. The idea is that, as J&K governor Satya Pal Malik said, “If blockade of communication helps saves lives, what is the harm?” Or, “People were living without telephone earlier also. And you must understand, telephones were being used for terrorist mobilization.”

Quite apart from the principle of making everyone suffer for the sins of a few being deeply unjust, a persuasively alternative view of this authoritarian approach is, in the words of Srinagar based businessman Mudasir Raja: “Rumor mongering will come to an end only if communication is allowed, not the other way around.”

A full page ad issued by the state administration in local newspapers last week asks, “Are we going to succumb to militants?” No, is the resounding answer. No, the militants should not get to choke the communications of the citizenry.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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