Give Kashmir Unrestricted Access to the Internet. It's Long Overdue.

As we approach the first anniversary of the scrapping of Article 370, the Kashmir Valley continues to be deprived of full-fledged internet services.

On August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood, dividing it into two union territories. In this series – ‘One Year in a Disappeared State’ – The Wire will look at what the last year has meant and what the region looks like now.

When the people of Jammu and Kashmir woke up on August 5, 2019, they could have scarcely imagined that Article 370 of the constitution was about to be scrapped.

They woke up to dead cellphones, no internet connectivity, no cellular network, and a host of other restrictions. Glued to their television screens, they heard of the arrests of prominent Kashmiri political leaders and the various political changes that ensued.

A curfew was imposed in many areas, and severe restrictions were imposed on the media.

Even as we approach the first anniversary of the reading down of Article 370, the Kashmir Valley continues to be subjected to various restrictions and proper internet services are still barred. Many political leaders being still under detention or house arrest.

At the time of its scrapping, it was affirmed that the reading down of Article 370 would usher in development and several industries would set up shop in Kashmir, but this has proved a forlorn hope. Businessmen will invest in peaceful regions and conditions in the Valley are still unstable, with sporadic episodes of militancy occurring frequently. Few will invest in this charged atmosphere.

Also read: As Second Year of Kashmir 4G Ban Nears, Signs of Official Rethink on J&K Internet Blockade

Firstly, to restore normalcy, there must be a democratic space for the people. This requires a freely elected legislature, freedom of speech and freedom of the media. Presently all of these are missing, even though the clampdown in question was imposed almost a year ago. If this state of affairs continues longer it will inevitably drive the Kashmiri youth towards the ranks of the militants. People must be allowed to let out steam, otherwise their resentment at being bottled up will sooner or later erupt violently.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

All political leaders and juveniles under detention should now be released, cases against them withdrawn, freedom of the media restored, and preparations made for early elections to the legislative assembly. This is the first crucial step to restoring peace in Kashmir.

Secondly, the status of Jammu and Kashmir as a full state should be restored forthwith, as it is humiliating for its people for it to continue as a Union territory. Jammu and Kashmir has a population of about 1.25 crore – in contrast, smaller states like Sikkim (with a population of about six lakh), Manipur ( population of about 27 lakh ), Arunachal Pradesh (population of about 13.8 lakh), Goa (population about 14.6 lakh), Himachal Pradesh (population 68.6 lakh) etc. enjoy full statehood. So to keep Jammu and Kashmir as a Union territory only adds to the sense of alienation from India prevalent in the region.

Thirdly, 4G internet services must be restored immediately. Kashmir presently has access only to 2G internet services, which is generating immense problems and hardship for people.

The ‘G’ word in this terminology means ‘generation’. While 5G internet connectivity is about to become available in the whole world, including India, Kashmir has been relegated to 2G or second generation. While a 2G connection gives a speed of 14-64 kbps, 4G can offer a speed between 100mbps and 1Gbps. That is akin to comparing a bullock cart to a bullet train.

Also read: Corruption Was Supposed to Vanish in J&K Post August 5. But It’s Alive and Well.

Bill Gates wasn’t being flippant when he said, “If your business is not on the internet, then your business will be out of business”.

The budding entrepreneurs, the vintage business houses, the preeminent hubs of commerce, and the whole Kashmiri economy was evolving and growing under 4G internet services, but the past year has nothing less than nightmarish for Kashmiris. Not only on the business end, but the education sector as well was hit because of these internet restrictions.

While students from all over India and the world have uninterrupted and speedy access to information and study material, students from Kashmir struggle to understand what their teacher is saying during online classes. Numerous students have missed exam deadlines, job appointments etc. because of this throttling of the internet. Who will take the blame for their loss? The banking sector, agriculture sector, power, law enforcement – everyone has been hit hard by this downgrading of internet connectivity.

Whilst the entire world is endorsing ‘work from home’ and ‘study from home’ as viable options, for Kashmiris the ‘from home’ bit needs access to 4G internet services to be effective.

The central government should now display a sense of statesmanship and implement the above-mentioned measures soon so that peace, commerce and Kashmiriyat are revived again.

Justice Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court.