Mobile Internet services were snapped in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur following caste clashes between Dalit and Rajput groups, multiple agencies reported. This was done with the imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) which allows local law administration to ban unlawful assembly and has been used to justify short bans on Internet services.

The reports did not mention how long the suspension will be in effect or whether bulk SMS services would be cut as well. Senior superintendent of police SC Dubey and district magistrate NP Singh were suspended by the state government as they did not handle the situation effectively, NDTV said.

The number of Internet blocks has increased dramatically with the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February last year. The Centre for Communication Governance At NLU Delhi counts more than 40 instances in two years where the internet was suspended for emergencies.

Changing tactics

The most recent mobile internet ban was in Jammu and Kashmir in April where services were reportedly cut for four days. Internet services were shut down following student protests across universities and colleges. The incident was sparked after some students in Pulwama Degree College were beaten up by government forces.

However, the Indian government has started changing tactics and banned only some social media sites in the Kashmir valley for a month. This includes services such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, YouTube (upload), Vine, Google+, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, Xanga, Buzznet, Flickr and Baidu.

But as we have pointed out in multiple instances, technology will not solve social and administrative problems, as its usage to stifle criticism and free speech will only exacerbate them. Shutting off social networking apps and free speech will, at best, delay the expression of dissent.

The inability to communicate creates an environment of fear, rather than addressing it, as people lose the ability to communicate with friends and family, via email and messaging, and also lose access to information via news websites and social media.

Shutting down access to communications (the ability to transmit and receive speech) is a suspension of fundamental rights and should be used in the rarest of cases. But frequently, authorities resort to internet shutdowns because of their inability to control a situation. In fact, mobile internet was shut down for something as frivolous as preventing students from cheating on an exam and spreading rumours about demonetization.