The demand for 4G internet service is Kashmir is growing amongst the masses, political classes, and even the separatists. In the dire times of the COVID-19 pandemic when the rest of the country has unrestricted access to high-speed, 4G internet, people in Kashmir complain of being isolated, neglected, and left in the dark.
The Supreme Court of India, on March 26 had issued a notice to the Central government and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration, on the plea of ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, which aimed to seek the restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir.
It was alleged that the government’s action (of blocking 4G internet services in Kashmir Valley) was violating the right to equality (Articles 14), freedom of speech (Article 19), right to life (Article 21) of the Indian Constitution.
The Centre has opposed the idea of the restoration of 4G internet in the name of national security as militancy still poses a serious threat to Jammu and Kashmir and it cannot be overlooked. Citing a recent incident where a massive number of people gathered for the funeral of a militant killed by security forces in Sopore, the Centre’s advocate — Attorney General K K Venugopal was quoted by the media as saying “the militants are being made into martyrs.”
Internet Blockade In Kashmir
Post the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution on August 5, the previous year, India, the world capital of internet shutdowns, stripped as many as eight million residents of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of mobile phone networks and internet connection for many months altogether and, still continues to be limited to the second generation (2G) network.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the absence of 4G internet connection poses massive challenges to the residents of the valley as, the communication of necessary information and essential advisories becomes more pertinent with each passing day.
With more than 300 cases and 5 deaths so far, the doctors of the region are already facing a lonely battle against a virus that is rather new to the human race, and need to be constantly updated on the advancements on the global level.
However, the medical professionals are stuck with not just an absence of basic modern communication solutions but also a general lack of face masks or other protective gear in hospitals.
The student community, once again, forced to sit home had just returned back to their schools nearly after a gap of 6 months of lockdown. While the other students across India continue to move further in their studies with online classes and video content, Kashmiri students barely lie afloat with their studies being interrupted with painfully slow internet speed.
Demand for restoration of 4G Internet Services in Kashmir
The leaders of the Valley that were detained for more than 7 months have been active in raising their voices against the suspension of high-speed 4G internet services.
Farooq Abdullah, the president of National Conference (NC) and Member of Parliament from Srinagar wrote to the Prime Minister of India in March asking him to immediately restore the high-speed 4G internet services in the Kashmir valley.
The government then, in an order said the low-speed internet will continue in the Union Territory till March 26 “in the interests of sovereignty and integrity” of the country. However, the low-speed internet (2G) never got replaced with high-speed (4G) internet infuriating the leaders even further.
Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of J&K and son of Farooq Abdullah wrote in a tweet “If you are going to restore our 4G then please just go ahead & do it. Stop messing with our heads with these “orders” “fake orders” & “denials”. Why should we be made to feel like beggars for the restoration of basic services the rest of the nation take for granted?”
The Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also demanded the restoration of 4G internet facilities in Kashmir to fight the coronavirus. “In view of this global health crisis that has spread to the valley, 4G internet facility should be immediately restored,” the Hurriyat said in a statement.
Mir Umar, a resident of Baramulla district of Kashmir Valley told the EurAsian Times that “it’s simply a denial of a fundamental right to the people of Kashmir. When the world is facing and fighting COVID-19, people in Kashmir are additionally fighting for the restoration of 4G internet.
Only the state and its operators have access to high-speed 4G internet. The general public has only access to 2G internet. Isn’t it irritating?
When there should be an easy flow of information – for medical professionals, students, and employees who’ve started working from home there is no actual response from the government. Only deadlines, which are adding more to the sufferings of people.”
International Organizations like Amnesty International have asked the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to “restore full access to internet services in the region of J&K and ensure that people have full access to health and safety-related information”.
The RSF, an international NGO that promotes free, independent, and pluralistic journalism, has called the Indian government’s move on the absence of 4G internet “potentially criminal” during the COVID-19 pandemic.