If you’ve been following the national news lately, you’d know about the situation in Punjab and Haryana. I’ve been living here all my life and I’ve never experienced anything close to this. There are things that are sane, then there are things that are ridiculous, and then there are things beyond all that. This was something like that.
The entire tri-city area which includes Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula came to a standstill. Everyone seemed to have locked themselves inside their houses, shops had to shut down, malls were closed, roads were empty, and mobile internet was shut down for 72 hours. Outgoing text messages were also barred.
From a security point of view, I think it wasn’t a bad decision at all. Shutting down the mobile internet in the entire region may have helped curb the spreading of rumors and could have even prevented people from organizing more violence. However, I realized we’re far too dependent on the internet now, especially while on the move.
Home and office wired broadband connections were still working. That was the only internet connectivity available.
The first 24 hours were bearable, but mostly for those sitting at home and glued to their TV screens. Anyone who was outside and wanted a piece of news was completely disconnected. The only way people could get a hold of things was by calling their near and dear ones. It could have jammed the networks but since a lot of the machinery was shut down already, not everyone seemed stuck outside.
Once the news of violence started spreading, everyone seemed worried. At this point, the only thing that mattered to anyone outside was to make their way back home. I remember picking up my mother from her office and I realized a lot of people who work at private companies which weren’t shut down for the day may still be stuck. Radio cabs and app based app companies couldn’t work at all since they’re completely reliant on mobile networks. Private cab companies didn’t want to risk working in such an environment. At this time, everyone was on their own.
Radio cabs and app based app companies couldn’t work at all since they’re completely reliant on mobile networks. Private cab companies didn’t want to risk working in such an environment. At this time, everyone was on their own.
The next morning, things seemed slightly better. The violence in the tri-city area was over and the army had taken control over sensitive areas. The city of Chandigarh became a fortress and Mohali was peaceful as usual. People were still hesitant on coming out during the first half of the day.
A large chunk of stores now use mobile PoS (point of sale) terminals that rely on mobile data connections. So one couldn’t pay with a credit or debit card at stores. Luckily, ATMs didn’t run out of cash during the weekend. Uber and Ola were still useless. If anyone wanted to navigate their way through the region, none of the apps would work obviously.
Another interesting thing I noticed is that a lot of people don’t have a regular broadband connection. These people rely on dongles that use mobile broadband and they were shut down as well. Students and travelers had the same issues. I knew a few people who were supposed to land at the international airport who were terrified of the news coming in. A lot of them wished they could stay updated with what’s happening before boarding and after landing.
E-commerce companies had their delivery guys going back to basics – printing out lists for deliveries and accepting cash instead of cards or online payment methods on delivery. Local cab companies rely on large WhatsApp groups to share requests and offer opportunities to cab drivers, their business was literally shut down. Since most eateries openeded the very next day, I am sure a lot of ‘foodies’ missed out on the Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook opportunities.
The internet ban wasn’t lifted after the mentioned 72-hour lockdown period. It was further extended by another 24 hours in Mohali, while the ban is still in place in parts of Haryana.
Now that the government has a policy in place for banning the internet during such situations, I feel there could be a workaround to all this. Placing jammers around a specific area could be one such solution. It does seem awfully expensive and slightly impractical though. Banning mobile internet at specific cell sites is another thing I can think of but it can only go so far.
While banning mobile internet ensures the safety of many it also points towards the government’s lack of ability to control such situations. If it’s so vulnerable, anti social elements can still act or wait till the mobile ban is lifted, unless they can come up with alternative methods to organize violent protests. Banning the mobile internet isn’t really the perfect solution to all problems.