An Indian Supreme Court verdict delivered in April 2007 declaring Internet access as a basic fundamental right of all Indian citizens did not work for Kashmiris as the Modi government last week shut down the Internet in Kashmir.
In the landmark verdict, the Indian apex court unequivocally announced that citizens have the right to access the Internet to gain information, wisdom and knowledge and their right cannot be curtailed at any cost.
The apex court’s ruling was in conformity with an UN resolution. The Human Rights Council of the global body in 2015 unanimously passed a resolution confirming Internet access as a fundamental human right. The resolution states that people should be able to express themselves freely on the Internet, same as they do in the real world.
But things are different for Kashmiris. Both the UN’s resolution and the Indian apex court judgement became worthless when the Modi government shut down the Internet and mobile networks as part of its move to scrap the region’s autonomous status.
This is not the first time the Indian government put the Kashmir in an almost communication blackout.
Kashmir has been the worst victim of Internet shutdown in India in recent years.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last month said Internet in the state of Kashmir was disconnected 45 times in the first six months of 2019.
The consequences are immense. Disconnecting the Internet prevents journalists from working because it prevents them from accessing their most basic sources, and it deprives the public of reliable and independently-reported information. It also keeps people disconnected from the rest of the world.
“The Country Without a Post Office”
Nobody knows how long the communication blackout will continue in Kashmir.
Kashmiris have reasons to be worried for past instances.
All the post offices were closed for several months in 1990 in the wake of the political turmoil in Kashmir. There was no mail delivered for seven months, severely disrupting communications in the pre-internet era.
The terrible situation was depicted in his famous poem “The Country Without a Post Office” by Kashmiri-American Poet Agha Shahid Ali.
A friend of Shahid’s father used to watch the post office from his house and he had observed the daily condition of the post office that there was a mountain of letters but nobody was picking them. One day he walked over to the piles and picked a letter from the top of one. He discovered that the letter was from Shahid’s father and was addressed to his son. In The Country Without a Post Office, Shahid writes:
“Then be pitiless you whom I could not save-
Send your cries to me, if only in this way:
I ‘ve found a prisoner’s letters to a lover-
One begins: “These words may never reach you.”
Another ends: “The skin dissolves in dew without your touch.”