Memories are short lived. Otherwise Jammu and Kashmir government has put curbs on internet more than two dozen times in the past five years. There are some set norms to deal with unrests in Kashmir, historically, excessive use of force on streets, wanton thrashing of people including media men to instil fear and random arrests. If it all fails to curb the anger finally internet ban comes into play in Kashmir or the messenger is shot in the form of ban on local newspapers. But, for the first time on the basis of intelligence reports Jammu and government decided to block 22 social media networking sites in Kashmir, as the agencies blamed these sites for inciting violence and fanning more anger and agitation on the streets of Kashmir.
How far have the videos uploaded by many angry youth, showing some live coverage of thrashing of people including the human shield video, contributed in compounding the problem on ground? Has the ban on these social media sites cooled the streets of Kashmir? In my opinion it has done very little on ground as a positive contribution to normalize situation.
It may sound farfetched to some, in my opinion that more curbs on internet and social media sites will only give credence to rumors and they travel faster than facts in Kashmir. The assessment of the agencies that by putting curbs on internet and by banning social media sites will bring peace is as flawed assessment as Mehbooba Mufti's resignation or exit will cool the streets of Kashmir.
The 'Internet warriors" are fighting a war in cyber space and it has very little connection with ground of Kashmir. Kashmir is simmering will remain simmering as long as the aspirations of the people especially of the youth are not addressed. Ban or no ban on social media, time will prove is of very little consequence for the ground situation to change here. Let us be hypothetical, tomorrow if Mehbooba Mufti is removed or she resigns will it be an end of a violent phase in Kashmir? Perhaps not. It may lead to more violence and may prompt Kashmir to slip into chaos for the simple reason that the entire cadre of PDP which is indirectly engaged with governance will join the streets. Similarly, if the curbs on social media and ban on the internet are lifted, perhaps it will help to give some space to the pent up anger of hundreds of youth who instead of streets pelt their stones in the cyber space.
Then comes the argument that why should business community, students, tourism stakeholders suffer because of curbs of internet in Kashmir. There are thousands of people in Kashmir who are the genuine users of internet and they really depend for their mental and physical growth on this instrument of modernity. Many students in Kashmir have voiced their concern in the media that they used to get benefitted by the online classes on YouTube and the ban has proved a spanner in their academic growth. Similar sentiments were voiced by researchers, scholars, students who have been frustrated by the intermittent curbs and bans on internet in Kashmir.
The entire business community has voiced their concern in Kashmir on the ban and curbs on internet services. But the real sufferers have been those businessmen who have switched to online business and most of the brunt has been borne by tourism players like travel agents and houseboats owners. In modern times of today can we afford to put curbs on the very essence of growth and progress like internet? And in the first place does such curbs finally fetch the government and agencies what they want from such regressive measures. It seems that when the government is not inclined to address the problem to its core they go for treatments to the offshoots of the problem like internet ban. It is a typical case of, a bad work man quarrelling with his tools, in Kashmir by those who hold keys to our future and to our prospects to grow in the global context.
It does not absolve the internet users in Kashmir from their responsibility to use the internet and not misuse it. Kashmiris have a strong sense of satire and they have bubbling humor. Many times it is displayed on social media by some innovative expressions. But many times that humor and satire crosses the boundaries of decency and it becomes very ugly and abhorring to see or listen such humor on internet about politicians of Jammu and Kashmir. The internet users should be discreet doubly when the state chief minister is a woman. Trolling is no word for the abuses being hurled on internet, they only are out to tarnish image of politicians and individuals which in turn only gives opportunity to the rulers to justify their ban on its use. If we utilize any tool of progress and education in its right spirit perhaps we can save such tools from being banned or curbed by the government.
(The author teaches at Media Education Research Centre, University of Kashmir)