EDITORIAL: That India imposed by far the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world for each of the last five years, according to a report by internet advocacy watchdog Access Now, exposes not just Delhi’s obsession with policing social media but also the civilised world’s blatant double standards in such matters.
Of 187 recorded instances of these shutdowns globally in 2022, 84 took place in India. And it’s not surprising that a majority of these – 49 to be exact – were in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), where it’s been trying to entrench its brutal occupation and suppress a genuine indigenous rebellion for decades.
If these steps were taken by any other country the usual cheerleaders and gatekeepers of liberal democracy would have come down very hard on it. But India routinely manages to get away with them because of at least two features unique to it.
One, its giant consumer market feeds corporate behemoths that dominate the economies of powerful western democracies like no other.
Since their money takes the lead in lubricating election campaigns in North America and Western Europe, it’s really no surprise that their favourite market gets a clean chit whenever the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) feels the need to suppress freedom of expression, human rights, etc.
And two, Delhi has no qualms about using its location and size to exploit Washington’s compulsion to isolate Beijing by any means necessary.
That’s what got it a leading role when the Obama White House formally rolled out this policy under its Pivot to Asia initiative; when the current US president, Joe Biden, was vice president.
This arrangement is at the heart of the double standard that America routinely displays when it chastises China for alleged rights violations and looks the other way when India discriminates against minorities and unleashes naked aggression, even genocide, in Kashmir.
To its credit, Pakistan has been shouting out loud about India’s excesses, including its habit of muzzling the press and shutting down the internet like Access Now’s report revealed, for anybody to listen. Yet neither powerful countries always ready to spread democracy in the world nor the good offices of the United Nations (UN) have been of any help when it comes to checking openly undemocratic practices in the world’s largest democracy.
It’s also a big shame that even breakneck 21st century technology and torrential spread of information have failed to raise awareness about the horrible crimes against humanity, of which social media restrictions are just one small part, that are inflicted on desperate Kashmiris every day of every year.
It’s very important to note that stopping access to the internet not only blacks out information about Kashmir, it also amounts to economic terrorism because it cuts out a large number of people who’ve been driven out of regular jobs due to government pressure and forced to eke out a living from online work.
And it makes matters much worse for them, of course, when they are unable to so much as communicate their helplessness to the rest of the world.
But now that outfits like Access Now are making these facts known to the world every year, one can only hope that ordinary people in powerful countries will appreciate them and vote in the kind of leaders that promise to exercise their power and influence to right wrongs everywhere they occur.
Especially when an important country abuses its position to commit crimes against a local population in broad daylight.
Whether or not the world’s leading democracies wake up to these new findings remains to be seen. But the case for change in India’s attitude and position on Kashmir, and the tactics it has got used to employing, couldn’t be stronger.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023
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