Monday, August 31, 2015

Gujarat internet ban: Government sits pretty, says there are "no representations" against the decision

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government appears to sit pretty, and is happy, that there is virtually “no protest” against its ban on mobile internet, continuing across the state since August 26, when violence broke out following the five-lakh-strong Patel rally for reservation in Ahmedabad. A senior Sachivalaya official told Counterview that there has been “no representation” against the ban, despite isolated voices regarding e-business having been “adversely affected”, hence “why worry?”
In all likelihood, the ban would be lifted on midnight of August 31-September 1. A decision to this effect is learnt to have been taken at a meeting taken by chief secretary GR Aloria. “There was no violence on August 30, during the funeral of those killed in the violence, which we had to watch closely”, he told the meeting, “Hence, time has come to end the ban.”
A section of the state government officials, strongly supporting the ban, said it was “necessitated” because social media, especially WhatsApp and Facebook, spread violence across Gujarat, and WhatsApp groups like “Burn Police Station” were formed, which was “dangerous”.
A few other officials were more concerned about their children not being able to “study” with the help of internet as a result of the ban, and approached state home secretary PK Taneja to know when it was ending. Yet others said, the top cops of Gujarat fear riots would again erupt once social media sites begin functioning normally.
When contacted, former state IT secretary Ravi Saxena, a retired IAS bureaucrat, who has formed NGO Removing Ignorance for Social Empowerment (RISE), meant to advocate the concept of internet as a fundamental right, said he is in the “midst of studying the whole issue”, but refused to comment on the state government decision.
“Several countries”, said Saxena, “have sought to formally engage people through social media as one of the prime objectives. These formal engagements help them solve issues of violence, as and when they appear to raise their head. There is a need to explore this option.”
The only statement against the ban is by the Computer Education Association, the apex body of computer education organizations of Gujarat, which said, such banning steps cannot help curb protests. “There was no social media, yet protests erupted in the fight to independence, or against reservation in 1985. Students are unable to continue their studies, even fill up their forms online for admission”, the statement, issued by association chief Hemang Raval, said.
Well-known Delhi-based human rights activist John Dayal, a former journalist who has been with the National Commission of Minorities, did not know, even six days after the ban, that the state government has gone so far as to prohibit mobile internet in the wake of the Patel protests.
He told Counterview, “Forward me any story, if it has appeared”. He put a comment on Facebook, which reads, “Did the Gujarat government announce they had clamped on mobile internet, and Apps such as WhatsApp? My friends wonder why civil society has not made any noise about it so far, protested this censorship, which sometimes is imposed in the Kashmir valley.”
Except the lone voice of Father Cedric Prakash, a Gujarat-based human rights activist, who called the ban a “clear step towards Emergency”, the civil society as a whole did object to the ban. Damini Shah, who is with the Movement for Secular Democracy said, “For a few days it was necessary for peace, but after that it was curtailment to our freedom of expression.”
The business in Gujarat, dependent on e-commerce, is said to be losing heavily because of the ban. Yet, there is no protest from such bodies like Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) or the Gujarat chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).
The telecom industry in Gujarat alone is said to be suffering a loss of about Rs 5 crore per day, yet director of Department of Telecom (DoT), Gujarat, Rajeev Kushwah has been quoted as saying that he “supports” the ban. "We would like to contribute in every possible way to maintain peace in the state. It is more important than worrying over any loss incurred in the process," he said.
Interestingly, executives of mobile phone have been quoted as saying that no legal cover was provided while banning internet in Gujarat. The companies received notices asking for the suspension of mobile services from the district collector, Ahmedabad, and the district superintendent of police.
Last year, there were over 98 lakh internet users, and banking, trading, travel, manufacturing and other services are depend on internet connectivity. Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel told the state assembly that the government had imposed a ban on mobile Internet services “to contain rumour mongering”.

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