Statewide shutdown of Internet service Letter of condemnation
(Internet vs Communalism)

Rishikumar Singh Kangabam *

The above matter is hereby brought to the attention of the concerned authorities for due perusal and investigation as the same has been rendered unacceptable and condemnable in most fronts having considered the pros and cons of the said measure taken up by the Govt. of Manipur recently in view of the lingering unstable situation hovering over the State, especially in the hill areas, concerning the ILPS issue.

Before we delve specifically into the matter, the rectification measure currently being taken up by the State Govt. looks more of a blanket cover solution than an earnest effort to solve the actual issue from its grassroots! INTERNET, no doubt, does have its own negative aspects. However, if we closely look at the positive side of it, it usually completely overrides the negativities of itself. The ratio (of positivity to negativity) will therefore generally run in a manner like 70:30 or at times 80:20. And for this matter, despite its negative impacts, Internet is rather considered more of a BOON than a DOOM, and thus its worldwide acceptance, popularity and continuity!

Now coming to the root of the current internet shutdown issue faced by the state of Manipur, and its public, just because of the tense situation in the hill and border areas of the state out of misuse of the services by a few miscreants, below is a brief explanation of how justified is the complete shutdown act of the Govt. as against the actual scenario in the hill areas (and in relation to the sufferings of the majority of the users in other parts of the state in general):

1. The state of Manipur still has a very low internet penetration statistics and this figure therefore gets even more lower in the hill areas of the state as the said regions have generally sparse and distributed human habitation, and the use of the internet and its associated benefits is still unknown to many although a countable portion of the population are familiar with the service – This very fact contradicts or nullifies the general conception that internet could become a complete threat to the State's present's scenario, as is currently being envisaged by the state Govt, thereby totally sidelining the majority of the population of the state and their overall perceptions. In true sense, it would be just about 5-10 percentage points of the possibility of misusing the internet by the vested groups from such regions or elsewhere as against the 90-95% group of users who use the service in its best forms!

2. Social media, for example, Facebook or Tweeter only does not represent a very vast and an unfathomable entity like the INTERNET! In other words, the drastic step of completely shutting down this vast service was undertaken in the state just because some communally oriented agenda or offending pictures and photos were uploaded/shared via such media. So, in an effort to curb just about 10% of nuisance created via such social media, the precautionary steps taken up by the Govt. in the contrary inflicts sufferings to the almost 90% of good internet samaritans out there – almost a heartbreaking equation which the Govt. failed to see whilst taking the drastic decision of completely shutting down the internet service in the state.

So, reference the above two points, we would like to emphasize here that the resultant total shutdown of Internet service in the state of Manipur is therefore not only completely unfounded, unthoughtful or uncalled for, but at the same time highly objectionable and condemnable too. The misuse of Facebook or WhatsApp to spread unwanted or uncensored news and pictures MUST NOT be the only criteria or the reason behind statewide/countrywide shutdown of a potentially useful and beneficial service like Internet, either in the context of the present situation of the state or for a different matter elsewhere.

To supplement the above statement and to share a bit of knowledge with the uncaring lots, it is worthwhile to add that the Internet service is rather effectively used to the advantage of the following activities and purposes – some of which form the sole bread earners for those operating in the fields and some for entertainment and information purposes, and above all, we all know that ours is still a really poor society where no luxury of employment exists apart from some very limited Govt. and private jobs.

Therefore, the sudden and unwarranted closure of internet service in the state has rendered a big blow to quite a large number of people in the state, especially to those who have sought their livelihood through the purposeful use of the services. Some of the following day-to-day activities have therefore been rendered completely useless and non-functional since past few days (from Tuesday evening of the previous week to be exact) because of the said regulation, throwing many a lives into mayhem, knowing not what to do and whom to approach:

1. Train and flight booking services (small private operators)

2. Internet cafes

3. Online financial transaction and trading activities (small private operators)

4. Call Centres (small private operators)

5. BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) firms (small private operators)

6. Freelancers and online part time workers

7. State, national and worldwide news updates

8. Availability of timely information on jobs, exams, etc. just to mention a few…

Therefore, having had a look at the above potential and wide uses and characteristics of the internet as against the misuse of the same by a few group of offenders in the state in the very recent days, we strongly urge the concerned authorities that the current restriction regulation on the internet services be removed and resumption of the same be allowed on an immediate basis. If the same goes unheard of or remain in an unconsidered state, as is usually seen in a state like Manipur where a torque is always required to push something into action, we potentially foresee certain counter-productive measures which will hinder the daily activities of the general public like bandhs, strikes etc, which all of us, at the same time, want to avoid at this hour considering the poor state in which the public nowadays are into out of various recent happenings and incidents.

On a different note, although we do not sense a hidden agenda as of yet behind allowing only Govt. sponsored internet service like BSNL (Broadband and Wimax connections) still remaining live and running amidst the mayhem, when all private players in the field are purposely compelled to completely stop their operations, we somehow feel a sense of partiality in the overall decision making process from the side of the Govt, to the extent that the very shutdown act has actually started smelling like a hidden propaganda as the days keep going by without any concrete assurance or declaration from any of the Govt. officials regarding resumption of the overall internet services in the state!

Before this subtle matter comes out of nowhere in the open as another potentially explosive offshoot out of the present imbroglio, the Govt. seriously and immediately needs to give a deep thought to the current volatile scenario and take up positive and urgent measures towards resolving the same. The reason is simple and obvious - as it is not necessary that the offending and communal comments and pictures can/will only be uploaded from private internet connections. In fact, it can very much be done from BSNL connections too and seen from the rest of the world the very next moment and create the same amount of havoc or hatred!

So what big or best purpose the Govt. feel it serves by just shutting down private internet services whilst allowing BSNL internet service to run young and live – day in and day out thus far! Is there really then a hidden propaganda in the guise of controlling the ongoing situation, or will this very uncertainty or partiality start creating chaos amongst various parties involved in the field and then it becoming a superseding factor leading to more unwarranted situations and incidents? More delay from the side of the administrators in providing a reply to this, more chances of turning this chaos into another potential havoc soon – soon enough!

On a final note, despite all these facts and realities, if the Govt. still feels or insists that the current regulation be imposed somehow, then restrict such regulations to just use of social media like FB, Tweeter, WhatsApp etc (some platforms where such gross activities may generally take place) for whatever time period it deems fit and NOT target the entire INTERNET COMMUNITY which embrace Internet as another means of LIVELIHOOD, a SEA of KNOWLEDGE and an IDEAS SHARING POOL, rather than just a tool to spread hatred and communalism as is currently being envisaged by the Govt. of the State and hence its recent resultant objectionable decision of putting a complete halt on the internet services out of fear of a few.

We therefore honestly feel that the concerned authorities will now not endeavour to create multiple issues in an effort to solve just one! And we, at the same time, and for the good of everyone, very much feel that the current issue may well find a concrete solution if the Govt. sits and talks with the agitating groups rather than merely showing its might or misusing its powers by targeting its blow instead on the statewide Internet services whilst in the actuality, the same should have been aimed more towards formal sittings and discussions with the agitating masses.

The situation is still more aggravated by the fact that such closure is still without any specified time limits! It is therefore more than a better well-known fact that such immature and unthoughtful act will not only serve the purpose it intends to but on the contrary, it may well become a mother of multiple and even more complicated issues in the very near future! Immediate but reasonable and thoughtful action is what we all now require from the side of the administrators of the State at this critical juncture and not a merely protracted and incubating thought process...something we all are accustomed to feel and experience time and again in our bewildered state called Manipur!

To end – let's avoid the habit of waiting with a spade when what's coming upon us is finally an avalanche!

* Rishikumar Singh Kangabam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 11, 2015.

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