“What is the difference between Shillong and Kashmir now? The internet has been gone like forever! So we cannot even exercise our freedom of expression now? What a shame, the government is so weak that it has to ban internet every time it senses a threat to security. What threat? We have every right to know?” – Questions and reactions like these have been haunting the MDA government in Meghalaya for the past 20 days now, especially in groups where people now meet more often and discuss matters over tea.
Young people are facing a hard time for Mr Google is difficult to access and most of their queries remain unanswered. Facebook and Instagram- the popular flaunting and image creation tools are now becoming dependent on broadband services and the only manner to portray one’s image (without filters) and to let people know what’s on your mind now is to meet and talk to people, find time for them or call them because even WhatsApp cannot be used very frequently.
And another unique section of social media revolutionaries who vent themselves out using the mobile internet is beginning to face a difficult time expressing themselves to people by word of mouth.
And while many technologically literate persons, while dealing with others in their day to day affairs are handicapped for not being able to update a status about FIFA world cup, the others are busy reading books, watching television and enjoying their freedom, away from the internet.
The past few days have been amazing in a way: families have actually begun to sit and talk over dinner and friends have begun to meet more often. Things are being discussed, a lot. And believe me when I say things are being discussed ‘A Lot’ instead of just being liked or shared or commented at!
The other day, I was waiting at a restaurant for people to interview and I overhear a group of young, college going students, about three in number, discussing the MDA (Meghalaya Democratic Alliance) government.
“This government is weak, its a coward!”, says a seemingly frustrated student with a disgusted look on her face. “If internet bans could really help, why is Kashmir still boiling despite the internet being banned again and again? They are taking away our freedom of expression! This is too much man!”.
“Freedom of expression?”, asks another person from the same group, “you’re still expressing yourself aren’t you! You don’t need internet to exercise freedom of expression”, he says laughing, seemingly annoying the other girl.
“If that was the case then why did the previous governments never ban the internet, even during worse times in Meghalaya? Tell me?”, she fires back at him.
“Oh come on! You realize right, how WhatsApp and social media have picked up pace since 2012? And tell me, what major incident/s has/have occurred since then that might require banning of the internet? Of course, barring the exodus of Northeast Indians from places like Bangalore and other states of India via a rumour message, but lets only talk about Meghalaya here. The May 31 incident, we all know was worsened by hate posts and messages. Do you remember how some channels falsely reported that two persons had died which led to so much hate and anger amongst the people here?. I personally think this is a strong government: one that does not fail to exercise its power and authority in times of crisis like the one we just witnessed. And this is not about being like Kashmir, my dear. Every state has its own different set of problems to tackle and suitable means to tackle it”, he adds.
Others in the group nod their heads and another among them says, “We need to speak up you know, make ourselves heard. I am going to write something on this issue in a local daily. I need to express myself. Can’t we just sit like this and do nothing? Moreover, why should we be dependent only on the internet to express ourselves? Did people in olden days not express themselves when there was no internet or phones?”, to which everyone nods their heads in unison.
“But what will happen to all the online news portals if there is no internet? How will journalists express their views there?”, another one asks with a worried look on her face and who, from their discussions, I go on to know that the person writes for some online news portal.
“The government should think about us also. This is not fair. We use the internet responsibly and some of our work is dependent here, so why should we suffer because of some people? This is not done!”, she adds.
And while I sit at a table beside them, sipping my red tea and playing Candy Crush on my phone, waiting for my interviewee to arrive, I realise how internet ban has begun to spark off discussions among the young people of Shillong, who are not only talking about policies of the government but also trying to look at means and ways to make themselves heard. And if this is what mobile internet ban does to young people in our city, then so be it!
Image used for representational purposes only