The developments of the past few days are of immense consequence to the future of our democracy, and the voices from Jammu and Kashmir need to be heard the loudest, not silenced en masse.
Access to the internet is a human right. Massive economic, social and individual harm caused when it is disrupted. But the human costs are much deeper. Cutting off Internet access prevents people from using the Internet to reach out for help, and makes them panic. They cannot make sure their loved ones are safe, or practice their right to expression and political participation - the government cannot unreasonably deny anyone in this country this right. We believe that internet based communications play a vital role in promoting greater trust between people and their government.
Arguments on security and public safety which are often made have resulted in a situation where India has the highest number of internet shutdowns globally. Most of these happen in Jammu and Kashmir. As per SFLC’s internet shutdown tracker this is the 51st time (atleast) this year that Kashmir has faced an internet shutdown and it won’t be the last until there is a serious reform on shutdown laws.
We have through our work consistently over months highlighted how it results in harm to different parts of India. From Rajasthan, West Bengal, Maharashtra. But tonight, we are concerned about Jammu and Kashmir. People there who are suffering from anxiety and bewilderment due to a deprivation of internet and mobile communication services. We are concerned for their safety, physical and mental care.
The last few days has underscored the need for legal reform given that as per our understanding the existing law under which orders for internet disruptions are passed undermine our fundamental rights. IFF urges the government to stop these arbitrary shutdowns that lack any sort of structure or oversight.
Jammu and Kashmir and all of India deserves better. These are our constitutional promises which must be fulfilled.
- Apar Gupta (Executive Director), IFF staff, and the board of trustees.