A New Year ‘gift’

 Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd suspends all public STD and ISD facilities as well as Internet services to the state

In a cynical and cruel gift to the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the central government suspended all public, outgoing STD and ISD facilities out of the state. In one sweep, students have been cut off from the Internet, thus denying access to professional information affecting their prospects, businessmen have suffered losses from being out of touch with clients outside and thousands of STD/ISD booth-owners rehabilitated by the state government through employment in this sector have found their livelihood snatched away. Thousands of families who have their offspring studying or living outside the state have been personally affected by the severance of telecommunications.

Speaking to the media, senior libertarian and writer, Balraj Puri described this move as yet “another step in the isolation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.’’ The ostensible rationale behind this decision, which has generated outrage in different sections of the state, was to prevent misuse of communications by dangerous militants. The December 13 attack on Parliament prompted this decision.

Lines were cut under orders from the Communications ministry. Following a decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd suspended all public STD and ISD facilities, as well as Internet services out of the state.

Around 2,500 PCO owners have been rendered jobless, as also hundreds of cyber cafe owners as a direct result of this move. Political parties across the spectrum have condemned the Centre’s decision.

“Whatever business was left is gone now. We cannot even talk outside the Valley,’’ said a Srinagar businessman, Muzaffar Ahmed. “If the attack on Parliament is the reason for these things then mobile phones should be banned in Delhi where the militants used the same,’’ he argued. “This is a move to push us into the Stone Age,’’ said Ishfaq Ahmed, a student.
Even the BJP’s state vice-president, Abdur Rasheed Kabuli, expressed anguish over the decision when he spoke to The Hindu. “This should not have been done’’ he said. “If there is going to be war and such steps are needed, the government should explain to the people. The ban will lead to further alienation.’’

Senior leader of the People’s Democratic Party and prominent Supreme Court lawyer, Muzaffar Hussain Beig, said the government move was a denial of basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution. “The Government cannot do this unless emergency is declared in the country,’’ he said.

While militants are still at liberty to communicate through walkie-talkies and satellite phones, a Srinagar housewife cannot use a PCO to speak to her sister in Baramulla, a pujari in Jammu cannot speak to his son in Texas and correspondents in the state can no longer file news via the Internet or PCO fax!

Private subscribers and offices can still call the rest of the country, but the majority of people in J&K who rely on PCOs to communicate with the outside world have been thrown into the telephonic equivalent of solitary confinement. The moot question on everyone’s lips is why this desire to further alienate the people of the state? This is indeed a tricky question to answer.

Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8  No. 75-76, Special Report 3



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