I write to you with a deep sense of concern over the government’s decision to shut down the internet during the recent bandh call in Arunachal Pradesh from 10-12 May.
While the government’s objective could have been to maintain law and order, I believe there are more sophisticated and nuanced measures the government could have taken to sidestep the need for such a severe action while safeguarding the rights of its citizens.
The internet has revolutionised our lives by providing access to information, services, and communication beyond our geographical boundaries. Shutting down the internet, even for a short period, inhibits the rights and freedom of individuals, transforms businesses from online to brick-and-mortar, including a significant impact on students who rely on the internet for their academic pursuits. The internet has become an essential tool for learning and academic research, and with online education becoming the norm, students cannot afford to be cut off from access to materials, online classes, and workshops.
Bandh calls and other public protests are tools people use to air their grievances, and the government owes them meaningful dialogue, respect of their rights, and protection from lawlessness.
Shutting down the internet might get rid of some immediate problems. But if the action alienates a significant part of the population, it could eventually create more problems. So, instead of locking down the internet, the government could have taken a more effective approach. For instance, it could have worked with stakeholders to enable platforms for dialogue. The government could have restricted the movement in specific areas of the state that were threatening public safety, or even set up temporary checkpoints.
Furthermore, the government could have proactively monitored media platforms, public messaging, and social media platforms and used accurate and on-time information to counter fake news and rumours. The government could have also created communication channels for essential services and established a liaison team to provide real-time information to the public.
In conclusion, I urge the government to explore alternative measures instead of resorting to internet shutdowns as a default tool to contain public disorder. Instead, the government should formulate a comprehensive approach that considers dialogue a prime part of the solution, technological screening of privacy-sensitive information and data-driven predictive measures that can counter disruptive activities. I urge the government and all stakeholders to work together towards more people-centric solutions, rather than heavy-handed actions that take away individual rights.