Security of life versus internet

Harsha Kakar
Prior to the visit of the King and Queen of Sweden to India last week, there were comments from the Swedish government that internet services must be restored in the valley. The Swedish statement read, ‘Sweden and the EU urge the Indian government to lift the remaining restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. It is crucial that free movement and communication opportunities are restored.’
There is no curfew nor movement restrictions in the valley, hence the only issue is recommencing internet facilities. Closure of internet is considered by Sweden as violation of human rights. Not only the Swedish government but also Congressional Committees in the US and some European nations have raised the same.
Few Indians possess similar views. Nidhi Razdan tweets, ‘Government states it is worried about the misuse of the net. But why should the majority suffer for the failure of the government to act against a minority of miscreants.’ Similar comments flow from opposition politicians, Yashwant Sinha and Sana Iltija, Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter.
The Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar, countered such arguments stating’security of life’is more important than provision of internet facilities, which could be exploited by Pakistan to convey fake information, stirring passion and anger amongst the local population.The primary responsibility of any state is to safeguard lives, and if some restrictions support these actions then they must be imposed.
The last four months have witnessed no major organized protests, limited violence and fewer youth joining terrorist groups.This itself is proof that the steps taken by the government and the statement of the foreign minister bear merit. India has rightfully either ignored international negative comments or officially interacted with commenting states to convey its reasons from continuing with the restrictions.
Hence, international criticism has slowly died down. As Jaishankar stated in parliament, ‘countries have shown understanding that matters related to Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India, are internal to India.’
When questioned on the blocking of internet in Parliament by the opposition last week, Union Minister G Kishan Reddy stated, ‘In view of the aggressive anti-India social media posts being pushed from across the border aiming at instigating youth of the valley and glamorising terrorists and terrorism, certain restrictions on internet have been resorted to.’
The Home Minister also stated that post the abrogation of Article 370 on 05 Aug, there have been 19 civilian deaths in the valley. All killed, including labourers from outside the state or truck drivers, were targeted by militants. This implies that by and large the situation is peaceful.
A recent expose by India Today, highlighted individuals from across the valley offering to enhance levels of violenceon payment. The charges demanded by them are higher than earlier, indicating that volunteers realize that resorting to violence is no longer a cakewalk. One of the instigators stated, ‘These three things are the easiest: stone-pelting, market shutdowns, traffic blockades. These are small things. And so is arson.’ They were even willing to burn down schools, an action the Hurriyat regularly resorted to.
They claimed that they are awaiting lifting of internet restrictions to enable reaching out to the mass of youth, through social media, asking them to assemble for protests on payment. Even the present locally enforced restrictions are being done by the same over ground workers or political elements seeking to project a different picture of the valley.
The targeting of outside labour and truck drivers is aimed at impacting the economy of the state leading to anger within the population.Some claim that reduction in tourists is mainly because internet facilities remain blocked.
Locally, majority of the population seeks peace and development. Decades of terrorism, bandhs and closure of academic institutions has impacted a complete generation, which the valley would rather forget. Most seek to get on with their lives, hoping that the government has their interest in mind. The middle aged and senior citizens have witnessed misrule by the few political families which have dominated the valley for decades and hope for a better future.
The involvement of Pakistan in fermenting terrorism has hurt almost every family in the valley, which has lost at least one member at some stage. While few would still desire for Kashmir to join Pakistan on religious grounds, the elders are aware that their lifestyle and freedom is at a far higher status than their brethren across. Of course, for some there is always the lure of creating a separate state, which they know can never be a reality.
The continued internment of political leaders from the valley has also led to a scenario of calmness. Their freedom to instigate the youth has been curbed. While there are regular calls for their release, the government rightly refuses to accept the same.
Simultaneously, while the Indian government maintains silence, Pak continues to claim that internet restrictions are akin to curfew in the valley. They also project that the region is flooded by security forces. There was initially some support on Pak’s claims, which have now begun to die down. The world has accepted, with finality, that the Indian action of abrogating Article 370 is its internal matter and the restrictions in place are temporary. Further, there is global acceptance that there is no likelihood of India reversing its decision. It goes to the credit of the Indian government and security forces that throughout the last four months, levels of violence, killings and incidents of terrorism are on the decline. The government has been able to fulfil its obligation and ensure security of life for its populace in the face of criticism, both internal and external. It has also beaten back the Pak narrative on Kashmir.
As Jaishankar stated, ‘Countries have also called on Pakistan to not allow its territory to be used for terrorism in any manner. They have also acknowledged that issues, if any, between India and Pakistan should be addressed bilaterally and peacefully.’
(The author is Major General (Retd)