Time to relook at the SMS ban in Jammu and Kashmir as ground situation changed

Anmol-Jaswal-Jammu-Boy-makes-to-the-Gala-round-of-Indian-Idol-Junior.-1Jammu July 15 : The ban on the Short Message Service popularly known as SMS service in Jammu and Kashmir which was invoked in the aftermath of stone throwing incidents in 2010 has lost its relevance but the state inertia on the issue has ensured that people are not able to use SMS service on pre-paid phones despite significant change in the ground conditions. Not only this the technological advancement and innovative products which are available on smartphone platforms like iPhone and Android applications have ensured that one can now share information on the fly whereas the state keeps harping on internal security problems. The fact is that a large number of people in Jammu and Kashmir, including the so-called arsonists are using WhatsApp, facebook, twitter and other modes of instant communication which ensure that people remain connected and glued to happenings in the real time. The smartphone applications are able to do lot more than SMS can do, and it would almost impossible for the state to monitor such a huge amount of data that is created by these services. With the change in ground conditions, stone throwing by and large becoming a history it is imperative that the state government gets out of the inertia, and intervene with the Ministry of Home Affairs to resume the SMS service in the state. This becomes particularly important because there is still a large populace which is using basic mobiles and does not know how to harness the power of digital technology.

A smart phone services like WhatsApp which work  cross-platform and allow the exchange of messages using only the internet data plan, it does not matter whether if you have a pre-paid or post paid phone connection . It also allows the creation of groups, unlimited messages, audio and video messages. In the wake of such a strong and powerful service being available freely to Jammu and Kashmir residents it is beyond any sensible reason to ban the affordable SMS service on prepaid phones. Even senior official in the state government suggest that this ban has served its purpose, and there is need to relook at the issue particularly in light of the problems being faced by locals. Last year, Union Minister Sachin Pilot during a visit to Jammu and Kashmir had also said that people needed and deserved this service. Even state chief minister Omar Abdullah had promised that he will take up the issue of ban with the union Home Ministry but his promises have also not materialized.  Prior to the internal security conference in May  this year the Chief Minister had said “I will take up the issue with centre”.  It however seems that the governments both at the centre and in the state see the entire evil of violence and stone throwing originating from the humble phone and the SMS service.

It is also clear that this ban has proved more symbolic than serving any other purpose as senior officials in the know of things tell that there has been no specified benefit that has accrued to the state or intelligence agencies. However, the loss to the people in terms of accessing technology and facing discrimination, loss in terms of extra efforts that they are paying to compete with others who have access, loss in terms of freedom to choose a service that is widely available to all others, has been significant, writes Ravi Nitesh in Counter currents. The indecision or the decision not to take a decision has been the hallmark of all Indian governments but the internal security experts in the establishment need to reassess the security situation particularly when violence which was witnessed in the streets of Kashmir is nowhere to be seen today. Affluent residents of the state are able to send the messages through smart phones and post-paid connections thus ensuring that it is middle class and weaker sections who have to suffer this unfair ban. To bring back the alienated populace in the mainstream the union government will have to encourage the state to look at the bigger picture and stop using these tactics once they have lost relevance. There has been enough punishment delivered to the people through this ban but not anymore. Is anyone listening?

A Special chance for Anmol
Like the latest cricket star from Kashmir Parvez Rasool, Anmol Jaswal is a child prodigy who has able to hog the national limelight through his singing in a reality show. To win the competition and make history, Anmol not only needs to sing brilliantly but also needs our votes through SMS and internet. With a ban on SMS service in J&K it is clear that this young boy will stand no chance despite being one of the best singers in the competition.
Can the state government be magnanimous enough and lift the SMS ban for a period of 12 hours so people of Jammu as well as Kashmir can vote for the home boy. Cricketer Parvez Rasool’s inclusion has been hailed by people of both the regions as cricket binds the state and the nation like nothing else. It is now a chance for the National Conference government to create history by taking one step that no one in the country has ever does. The people of J&K want to vote for their star singer but the moot question is that is our government listening to the hearts of the people or does it want their votes only after every half a decade.  Please create a window or remove this ban is their fervent demand.