February issue 2002
The people of Jammu and Kashmir received a New Year gift from the Government of India, in conformity with the latter’s mistrust of them.
At the stroke of midnight, as people welcomed 2001 with prayers of peace, they were distanced more than ever before from the entire world. A whole supersonic jet age was inverted by one press of the button that ended the peoples’ road of communication outside the state. The public phone booths throughout the length and breadth of the state were bereft of their powers to connect outside. The Subscribers Trunk Dialing (STD) and International Subscribers Dialing (ISD) were snapped from the PCOs. The cyber cafes were left with a set of computers that could not reach the cyber skies. The first morning of the year entailed that work in hi-tech offices was likely to be halted and chaotic with e-mail facilities and Internet having been withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir.
The reason was as vague as the reason for not introducing the mobile phone to the state, unlike the rest of the country, that militants could be using such modes of communication. The beginning of the year, perhaps coincidentally but aptly, saw the creation of a new Airtel advertisement, which epitomised the neglect of the people of Kashmir in the backdrop of the denial of hi-tech gadgets, now deemed a necessity in a modernised world, with its slogan of ‘from Himachal to Kanyakumari’ replacing the old metaphor of national integration of ‘from Kashmir to Kanyakumari’. Though communication with the outside world may be the least pressing of the concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir deprived of democratic rights and human rights, but it may still be a step enhancing their already existing alienation. Though private connections are working, it is the PCOs (Public Call Offices) that have become the latest targets, besides the cyber skies. ISD calls to Pakistan are already locked for more than a decade. The snapping of all lines now is not something that would find favour with anyone. Besides, it is turning out to be a drain on democracy. The telecom department of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd is already incurring huge losses on this account. The department is incurring a loss per day of approximately 25 lakhs rupees. There are 2350 PCOs in Jammu alone, with its teeming population of 11 lakhs, some of which have closed down because they cannot survive simply on local calls. This has also rendered at least 4500 people jobless. The information technology industry which had recently started coming up in the state with 2500 internet accounts has also received a setback and a sort of trend of recession has set in with many youngsters having to lose their jobs. There are about 60 Internet cafes in Jammu alone, each with an investment of not less than 5 to 10 lakhs rupees. The latest move is likely to sound their death knell if it is allowed to continue for some more time. Those affected by the move have questioned the dichotomy of withdrawing the STD, ISD and Internet facility structured on security reasons. “The militants are surely using a much more sophisticated system than coming to PCOs to make phone calls,” they argue. Besides, would the government deny rights to people if these are also being clandestinely used by the militants is the moot question on everybody’s mind.