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A contentious prevention

A contentious prevention

The government continues to be adamant on its stand that as "modern terrorism relies heavily on Internet", curbs imposed in Jammu and Kashmir are not only justified but also necessary. It is as much a reality that the curfews and restrictions have brought normal life to a grinding halt, besides the more unsettling fact that absence of internet has affected common life in more ways than reported—this has been a regressive move because the advancement that came from availability and accessibility of internet is not only withheld, but pushing back people to the times when internet was not the regular order is difficult and unwarranted as the obsolete ways of pre-internet times also do not exist; the most prominent examples being education and basic healthcare which is largely digitised for the convenience of both the people as well as for the service providers. The J&K government has told the Supreme Court that the "danger of weaponisation of social media's hydra-like nature by local and cross-border elements to 'radicalise' Kashmiri people had led to imposition of restrictions across the Valley on August 5". The misuse of the pervasive service stands established but imposing a blanket ban on what is promoted as the lifeline of good and effective governance has greater chances of being counter- productive. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for J&K government, acknowledged that access to Internet was indeed a part of the fundamental right to free speech. But warned that "modern terrorism relies heavily on the Internet", adding that "Terror views social media as its most effective weapon. Terror is global." In the wake of such an argument, although valid, the discussion comes to a standstill at a point between preventing a predictable disastrous situation and taking requisite steps to avert it and in the process imposing a compromise that in fact is greater than the scope and opportunities for a stable and peaceful situation to prevail. Granted that difficult steps must be taken to ensure the achievement of long term goals, the immediate concerns of people and that of a region that is of great significance and which in "integral" to India cannot be overlooked for the same reasons: building trust with the people has to be the first step in ensuring them welfare. Likewise, causing them prolonged trouble for reasons in national interest will only distance the people further. The restrictions imposed under Section 144 of CrPC across J&K after the abrogation of the special privileges under Article 370 has resulted in persisting restrictions with respect to movement and means of communication in the Valley. It is necessary to point out particularly that this move has choked freedom of press—meaning that the prevailing situation is unconstitutional, to say the least.

Acting upon heaps of material, including intelligence and military reports, about inflammatory material and speeches, circulation of fake news, morphed images and videos spread on social media, restrictions are argued to be the only thing standing between violence and the Kashmiri people. Given how social media could be used as an "inexpensive recruiting tool" by morphing photographs and videos to incite the youth to take up terror, prevention is the immediate plan of action in a situation that threatens to turn volatile any time. The expanse of the social media may be uncontrollable but clampdown on the most basic means of communication such as landlines and newspapers stands questioned as this prevention drive is desperate to the extent of violating the basic and fundamental rights of the common citizen. Mehta argued that the apex court judgments about free speech for newspapers would not apply to the world of the Internet. He said national security was exclusively a matter of policy firmly placed within the government's domain and not a subject of law to be decided in courts. Kapil Sibal made a rebuttal saying that "State says all schools were open. But why did children then not go to school? Well, because parents were afraid to let them go. Did the State not have an obligation to ensure children went to school… that the sick reached the hospitals. Arrange adequate public transport... Union of India says most Kashmiri people are peaceful, then why did they not let them come out all these days?" Leading newspapers say 4,00,000 migrants have left, 3,000 hotels in the Valley run empty and 5,000 travel agents have lost work as most of their work is done on the Internet. Further, apple trade suffered and farmers have been affected. In a modern, civilised, and rapidly advancing world, many liberals maintain that internet should be a basic human right. The freedom to connect, more formally known as the right to Internet access or right to broadband is a widely agreed upon view that people must be allowed access to the internet by way of substantiating their rights to freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, and the state bears the responsibility of ensuring this—which primarily means providing for internet access in the first place and not unreasonably restricting anyone's access to the internet. It must be emphasised and repeatedly so that the State had an obligation to balance national security interests with the fundamental right of the ordinary citizen to live with dignity.

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