|Cartoon by Xavier Bonilla 'Bonil'|
Now it all looks like routine life but just a few days ago, the city was burning. One political agitation was mishandled and as a result, public properties were vandalised and the city was on the brink of total collapse of public life for a long time. Just in a couple of days, we saw misplaced agitations, governmental apathy and policy brutalities. The administration called the para-military forces swiftly and the city life did not take much time to normalise. As part of these events, there was a blanket ban on mobile internet – apparently, with an excuse of curtailing rumour mongering. And it is still puzzling, why was there a blanket ban on the mobile internet?
There is a difference between temporary de-activation of social media sites and a blanket internet ban for a week. It might be advisable, if at all in some cases, to ban the social media temporarily at the times of riots in the city. But a blanket internet ban affects all internet operations, which are becoming common amongst all the user groups. Now a days, a lot of important transactions take place on the mobile internet like banking, tickets booking, searching for important information and even the state-supported ration shops use the mobile application based on internet. The blanket ban was extended for a week, making it impossible for the mobile internet users to do any transactions.
But the excuse of curtailing rumour mongering or inflammatory new items, does not stand a close scrutiny. Social media sites were not the only sources of inflammatory contents and rumour mongering. Many more inflammatory stories were being broadcasted on some of the local TV channels. A word of caution to them would have been advisable. But instead the mobile internet ban was operationalised imagining it as a sole mode of spreading inflammatory material. There was not internet in 1984 or 2002 but still this country saw its worst riots. It was probably first time, a blanket ban on mobile internet was enforced. Surprisingly, the blanket ban on internet was not well-covered in the national media. And many local media stories made it only about how the youngsters are missing the social media instead of understanding the wider repercussions of the blanket internet ban.
Do we even realize how the government has become used to intrude in the citizen’s life and how they have become used to censorship? A blanket ban on mobile internet amounts to internet censorship. Internet censorship is just another form of bullying and it is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.Internet censorship in Gujarat reflected the lack of confidence of the state administration in itself. There is a real danger of the government getting used to internet censorship every now and then. During those days of the blanket internet ban, Gujarat has unfortunately joined some countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In many ways, internet is an anti-thesis to censorship. The internet users always find new ways of subverting the censorship authority’s orders. It is extremely important for a democratic society to protect this very nature of internet.
(7th September, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 3)