Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cell phones and dry fruits

The recent ban on prepaid cell phone services in Jammu and Kashmir has rightly annoyed people there. An Army spokesman has argued that ‘‘The terrorists are using prepaid phones to stay in touch with their handlers as it gives them easy ISD access’’. I'm sure that's true enough. But then, it's also true that during the 26/11 attacks in Bombay the terrorists needed a stock of dry fruits to sustain them in their rampage. So how come we don't hear about banning dry fruits?

Maybe that was flippant but it's also the point. Terrorists use a lot of modern facilities: cell phones, the internet, electricity... And it's quite true that banning all of these would greatly restrict their actions. Unfortunately it would also restrict normal life as we know it. This would be an unacceptable loss of quality of life, which is why none of these things is banned in, say, Bombay. A concrete example is the wireless router. This device is highly capable of being misused if not configured properly, and attempts and laws have been made to ensure routers are properly secured, but no one in their right minds would suggest Bombay should entirely do without wireless routers.

So finally, it's only people in outlying areas for whom the government considers such bans acceptable. In other words there's a "mainstream" India where normal life, business, personal freedom, entertainment and all that come first, and then a "border" India where instead the citizens are supposed to accept bans and inconveniences "for the sake of" this mainstream India. As a recipe to alienate everyone on our borders, it's truly inspired.

And that's only about cell phones. The disgraceful Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows the army the right to, among other things, shoot to kill based on mere suspicion that it is necessary to do so in order to "maintain the public order". For more details please read this article. This law is applicable in Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Interestingly the residents of these states don't find it exciting to sacrifice their fundamental rights for the rest of us. I see their point.


Mind Without Fear said...

I agree with you that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a blot on Indian democracy.It is all the more shameful that - as u pointed out - it is used only on these border states and no wonder that main stream and side streams never come together.

I think it was Edmund Burke who said " You cannot rule a country that has to be conquered everyday". India cannot remain India if we need the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as the instrument to keep it together.

Ramanan said...

Hi Sunil,

I just saw P Chidambaram a minute back on NDTV talking to an audience of young people and this question about prepaid mobiles. I liked his answer - he said that it will put more pressure on the cellular companies to improve their verification standards. He said they were given 2 months time but didnt do anything.

Jus thought I'll let you know since this is the perspective from the other side.

Mind Without Fear said...

I also watched P. Chidambaram and enjoyed it quite a bit. I liked the fact that he can tackle a media anchor person bent on sensationalizing and mixing issues (my personal opinion).

I know that he has put up amendments for the Armed Special Forces Act for the Union Cabinet to consider. I would wait to see what finally comes out. However, as long as such an act even after amendment is predominantly used - deliberately or not - in border states, I believe the issue of main stream and side stream will continue to fester.

In terms of verification standards by mobile companies, instead of banning prepaid services even for a limited period, he can explore the option of imposing draconian and punitive fines on these companies - that might actually work - business world will go the extra mile to stay in business and will avoid such punishments!! This will not work all the time naturally - nothing will - but it is worth a try.