- The last year brought to the fore the inevitability of digital platforms offering much-needed succor to the entire universe reeling under the unprecedented impact of the pandemic wrought economic hardships and challenges throwing a lifeline to sustain at least a semblance of activities. When every other sector was affected owing to stringent lockdowns, the digital platforms emerged as a boon tremendously helping the governments to offset the economic implications through technology-driven initiatives. Right from work from home to medical services could be undertaken using the digital mediums during difficult times is stating the obvious.
- However, the power of the digital reach consistently gets cornered by frequent internet blackouts resorted to by the administration ostensibly to check rumor-mongering and to ensure peace when things appear to be tense or going out of control. The country is witness to similar internet blackouts in the past and the latest instance was visible over the past week when the farmers protesting at the Delhi borders had to face these restrictions on the back of Republic Day violence. The administration has imposed internet services to slow down in several parts of Delhi, in addition to suspension at agitating border areas.
- In neighboring Haryana, several of the districts encountered suspension of mobile internet and SMS services over the past few days. People in the know would readily vouch that the practice is slowly becoming the de facto standard operating procedure in states across India when the authorities sense trouble brewing to clamp down these restrictions. Research undertaken on the measure amply demonstrate that digital blackouts encourage more rumors, not peace, defeating the very purpose of implementing such a blunt instrument which is nothing but abuse of power.
- Needless to mention, there are lot many crucial sectors viz. education, health, the public distribution system, banking, services, and every other sector suffering collateral damage as access to the internet has become a fundamental requirement for millions of citizens’ essential transactions on a day-to-day basis. Frequent recourse to digital blackouts does not augur well for the Digital India campaign that is being so vociferously pushed by the government exhorting one and all to be a part of this civilizational shift riding on the technological advancements.
- The just-released Economic Survey 2021-22 urges embracing online schooling to reduce inequalities in educational outcomes. The benefits and advantages of the medium in pedagogy during difficult times need no further emphasis. Just to recollect, Jammu & Kashmir continues to suffer from the limited resumption of internet services since August 2019 slowing down necessary transactions to a virtual crawl. Despite our half-baked thrust towards realizing a digital revolution when cutting-edge 5G technology is not too far away, we are ranked a dismal 129th in the world for mobile internet speed and 65th for broadband speed in December 2020.
- Above seemingly contrarian policies based on hollow talks without concrete actions on the ground defeats the government championing the digital economy with subpar internet speeds and internet shutdowns. Thus, it is incumbent to assess the issue holistically and uphold digital empowerment of people rather than resorting to undemocratic suspensions/restrictions in the guise of controlling the law and order situations.