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Jammu and Kashmir suspends Internet services in state for two days over beef controversy

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Jammu and Kashmir has suspended Internet services for two days following apprehensions of violence in the state in light of the beef ban in the state (there’s a sentence I thought I would never write), reports the Indian Express . The decision was taken by the government following a high-level meeting and late Thursday evening the inspector generals of the state issued a notification asking all internet service providers to snap 3G, 2G, GPRS, lease line and broadband services on September 25 and 26 to keep things under control.

Earlier this month, the state had witnessed massive protests after the High Court ordered that a little-known law passed in 1932, banning cow slaughter and the sale of beef in the state, be strictly enforced, as indicated by this NDTV report.

The ruling PDP party is in opposition to the ban on beef in the state, while its ally in the state, the BJP is in favour of the ban on beef. The situation further deteriorated when local organizations threatened to slaughter bovine animals in the state on Eid in protest of the ban. Other Hindu outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had threatened economic blockade of the Valley in case any such thing took place.

The blocking of Internet services to maintain law and order situations has been taking place more regularly in recent times. Last week, Internet services were suspended in the city of Surat in Gujarat to curb the spread of rumours amid the agitation by the Patel community. This was the second time Internet services were suspended in Gujarat. Late August the state was cut off from Internet services for a week due to political agitations by the Patel community demanding reservations.

On September 2, Internet access and SMSes were cut off in the north-eastern state of Manipur following violent protests which left eight people dead.

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MediaNama’s take

The four instances of Internet and telecom services being cut off come in the same month Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to meet heads of technology companies in Silicon Valley to discuss the ambitious Digital India programme. These incidents only hurt the Prime Minister’s agenda. Earlier in the week, the draft National Encryption Policy, which mandated that all messages on social networks be stored in plain text for 90 days, was withdrawn in the light of Modi’s visit in the U.S.

Perhaps the BJP government can also consider the fact that blanket bans on Internet services do not serve the purpose of  maintaining law and order and deal with the political situations in the states without polarizing people.

MediaNama had earlier said that there are better ways to maintain law and order in the cities and states without snapping Internet services. Police needed to be smarter than this and can take a leaf out of former Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria’s book who used WhatsApp and SMSes to counter communal tensions. In January, tensions rose in Mumbai’s Lalbaug area after Traffic police stopped some youths for rash driving. Following arguments and an alleged assault on a cop, local youths joined in and the matter soon escalated. The Mumbai police worked with telecom operators and asked them to send messages requesting people to not believe in rumours and assuring them that the city was safe.

Read more: Gujarat internet ban: Thoughts on censorship and free speech

Image source: Flickr User Arrano

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