It is the people, and only the people, who were made to pay the price.
The restoration of mobile Internet in Manipur on Saturday after nearly five months can be seen as steady, while belated, step towards normalcy and is, therefore, welcome. The state government had imposed a blanket ban on all Internet services on May 3, the day when clashes between two prominent ethnic communities broke out. Broadband Internet was restored partially with severe conditions on June 25. The government has now found that “law and order has improved in the state”, and hence the move.
The clashes that are yet to cease, however, have so far claimed more than 160 lives and thrown the lives of tens of thousands into jeopardy. They have deepened the fault lines in the fragile social structure in the border state. The Supreme Court has stepped in and made some moves to ensure justice to the affected people but both the Union and the state governments have failed in their constitutional, democratic and moral obligation to put down violence, yet have not been held to account. It is the people, and only the people, who were made to pay the price, of which the second longest Internet ban in India, after Kashmir’s nearly-two-year-long one, was a part.
A key finding of the team deputed by the Editors’ Guild of India to Manipur was that the ban on the Internet reduced the media into an embedded force of the government that only parroted its account of events. Taking advantage of the absence of a truthful media, rumours were started and they spread thick and fast, further adding fuel to the fire. It has now come to the fore that the horrendous incident of two women being paraded naked before being raped was a reaction to reports of an incident that never occurred at all.
The governments at the Centre and in the states must take a lesson from the Manipur experience and put in place proper guidelines when it comes to withholding the Internet service in disturbed places in the future. A blanket ban on communications can only exacerbate, not ameliorate, a crisis.