Is internet ban the answer ? Unrest continues
Has the prolonged suspension of internet service really helped Manipur to go anywhere near the understanding of normalcy ? This question should be viewed against the reality in which the unrest has spun out since the evening of May 3. Mobile internet service was suspended in the evening of May 3 after the supposed Tribal Solidarity March organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur turned violent at Chura-chandpur. The next day the ban was extended to broadband service and Manipur was literally cut off from the highway of information map. Newspaper houses had an extremely tough time coping with the situation as downloading items from the service available at the office of the Directorate of Information of Public Relations took hours and hours. It was only after some time that special arrangements were made for media houses and the internet service could be obtained after submitting an official affidavit that the net connection would not be misused. Full internet connection was restored on September 23, but as things turned out, it lasted for just two days with the Government again shutting down mobile internet and it has been extended and extended from time to time. May 3, 2023 to November 6, 2023 and clearly Manipur has been coping without net connection for over 6 months or over 180 days. The question is, has the internet shutdown helped Manipur in any way to walk towards the road of normalcy ? The people of Manipur and obviously the Government should know the answer but yet again it may well be asked if the situation would have taken a turn for the worse from the already extremely bad situation, if the net had not been suspended. Tough to say, but a look at the case of Jammu and Kashmir, which has so far earned the dubious distinction of being the place to experience the word’s longest internet shutdown may open eyes. For over a year Jammu and Kashmir remained cut off, but did it stop violence ? A question worth raising especially in the backdrop of the fact that from January 1, 2020 to July 22, 2020 the place reported at least 203 fatalities in violence related incidents. During the same period there were 223 terrorist related activities at the said place and all these cases happened when internet was cut off at Jammu and Kashmir. This is according to an article that appeared in the Observer Research Foundation. Likewise in Manipur too, most of the killings, the mayhem, the acts of arson, the infamous nude parade of the two girls, the killing of Hijam Linthoingambi and Phijam Hemanjit happened when Manipur was cut off virtually. The figures here have just been roughly collected and the Government will definitely have a better and more clear cut report but this does not seem to have impacted on its decision on the internet ban.
Let it also be very clear that majority of the households in Manipur do not have access to broadband connectivity. The same is also not available in most of the hill districts. And importantly the Naga dominated districts have remained unaffected by the ongoing unrest. It is against this reality that the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur has gone ahead and imposed a blockade on the National Highways. Even as goods laden trucks are stranded at different points along the National Highways, it is still not very clear what steps the Government has taken to escort the stranded trucks. This is not the first time that The Sangai Express is commenting on the internet shutdown and it will not be the last either. Internet is the connection with the world. Cashless transaction, as championed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is today not feasible for many in Manipur and this is how it has been since the evening of May 3. Sending the monthly hostel and rent fees to children studying outside Manipur has become a big issue for many. It is the same for young students who want to apply for admission in institutes outside Manipur, appear for competitive examinations and who wish to appear for online classes. It is this very point which ANSAM had directly pointed out on more than one occasion, but obvious that the Government is not yet ready to listen and to think that this is the situation when the Chief Minister himself announced that Internet would be restored in a few days time during the Cabinet meeting at Ukhrul on October 18 as well as the MoA inked with ANSAM is what is hard to digest.