Chief Justice of India Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde
With deep regards and reverence, we would like to state that internet is the oxygen of life in today’s world. Most aspects of life cannot even be imagined without the internet.
After the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, it’s bifurcation and conversion into the Union territory, the internet as precautionary measure was snapped on August 5th, 2019 in the entire Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. However broadband services after sometime were restored in the Jammu division.
The internet service (both broadband and mobile internet) even after almost five months continue to remain non-functional in the Kashmir valley.
A media center located at Lalchowk Srinagar caters to the needs of hundreds of journalists’ internet needs, but does not suffice them. Many media professionals have to travel long distance to reach this media center in this harsh winter of Kashmir.
Besides, Deputy Commissioner offices at the District level look after some very basic internet needs of handful of students and professionals etc. but all these are extremely inadequate to meet the internet needs of professionals working in Kashmir.
Internet services even to press and media offices continue to remain barred and Kashmir press Club, a premier organization of Journalists in Kashmir has time and again reaffirmed hardships faced by journalists due to absence of internet.
With a population of more than six million, few centres with limited Infrastructure cannot be a subistitute to fully functional internet services.
Many ventures, businesses and jobs have been adversely hit by this internet gag and according to rough estimates, thousands of jobs from IT, Media to other key sectors have been affected by this internet shutdown.
This internet gag has also caused tremendous loss to the economy as evident from various media reports, released data and trade bodies assertions.
Students of Kashmir have often expressed extreme inconvenience to that their preparations for different competitive exams has been completely disrupted due to the absence of internet.
People have also faced enormous trouble in booking tickets etc. and have often had to rely on regressive options of looking for sparse travel agents who would tend to financially exploit such a situation. Even homemakers have expressed great discomfort and claim that they are being forced ignorance in the absence of internet services.
The five month long internet gag faced in the valley of Kashmir is probably one of the longest internet bans in the world history, that too in a country and regime with “Digital India” as its flagship scheme.
One could have understood the ban imposed during the first few weeks after the major decisions were taken but prolonging it does not make sense as government has put on record several times that situation is “normal” in Kashmir.
Often during this time I as a journalist had to share my email password with friends based in Delhi and dictate to them the content of the email and request them to send it to a given adress indicating the hardship faced by we the citizens.
Even Doctors who consulted their patients especially those facing heart, kidney and other serious ailments have found it extremely challenging to communicate, and have expressed their anguish as they have failed to do the same during all these months due to internet blockade.
We are in times when free and accessible internet facility for all is being included as a fundamental right in various countries’ legal provisions while we in India are breaking records of contributing largest internet shut downs.
Being cognisant of the technical, economic and human costs paid by the public, we are hopeful that through this letter, internet ban would be lifted soon and as a first step, atleast broadband services be made operational throughout the Kashmir valley.
A humane outlook is the need of the hour so as to see an end to this gruelling internet ban.
Rameez Makhdoomi & Akriti Bhatia
(Rameez Makhdoomi is journalist based in Kashmir and Akriti Bhatia, a Research Scholar and policy analyst based in Delhi)