The merit of the Supreme Court judgment on Friday on the plea by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kashmir Times executive editor Anuradha Bhasin to lift Internet restrictions in the Kashmir Valley, which have been in place since August 5 last year when the status of the erstwhile state of J&K was constitutionally reduced, is that it is long on explicating provisions of the law, including Article 19 which deals with the freedom of speech, expression and the freedom to practise a trade.
But it is noteworthy that the court gave no direction to the state government/authorities to immediately lift these restrictions, even partially. This is what might have been reasonably expected after more than 150 days have passed since the closure of the Internet in Kashmir.
In today’s interconnected world, can a society be left to stew, bereft of the Internet? Is that not the equivalent of being willfully deprived of electricity by a government in pursuit of a disturbing political agenda?
The question will, therefore, remain as to whether justice has been done to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by the court, or whether the judgment was only about the expectation of justice in the future.
Since the three-judge bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai has ruled that “suspending Internet services indefinitely is impermissible” and that the “freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practise any profession or carry on trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1) (a) and Article 19 (1) (g)”, the court directed the J&K administration to “review all orders suspending Internet services forthwith”.
The court might have been conducting a citizens’ seminar. A government that had terminated even mobile phone services, which it fully restored barely a week ago as a response to an international hue and cry, and thought nothing of picking up nine-year-old children from their homes and clamping them in custody, to say nothing of the blanket imposition of Section 144 CrPC across Kashmir, is not reasonably expected to be liberal in conducting a “review” ordered by the Supreme Court.
The wise counsel tendered to our rulers by the Supreme Court bears a general tone. It might have been considering a plea on removing restrictions not in the specific setting of Kashmir, whose circumstances flowed from unique historical circumstances, but from any part of the country, so all-encompassing and devoid of context the judgment appears to be.
We may only hope that the government is alive to the international pressures building up over the Kashmir issue. Recently, foreign minister S. Jaishankar gave the impression of being not quite ready to meet members of the US Congress keen to discuss Kashmir with him. It is to be hoped that the circumstances, if not its own good sense, will lead the government to dismantle Internet restrictions in general, retaining only such aspects of this draconian measure that are aimed at directly checking terrorism.