There have been two Internet shutdowns last week as state governments deal with law and order situations. On Sunday, reports started coming from Darjeeling that mobile Internet was snapped as Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) protests turned violent. Business Today reports that mobile Internet was blocked in the hills in a bid to prevent mass gatherings of protesters.
The protests were sparked after raids were conducted on the house of GJM chief Bimal Gurung. Initially, the political party had been opposing the West Bengal government’s decision to make Bengali language mandatory in schools, but now the protests have morphed into a demand for a separate state. Darjeeling and adjoining areas have a majority Gorkha population which speaks Nepali.
Meanwhile, mobile Internet was blocked once again in Jammu and Kashmir following the death of a youth. Naseer Ahmed succumbed to injuries he received in a firing in Srinagar on Thursday, reports the Indian Express. Authorities said that blocking the Internet was necessitated to curb spread of “inflammable content” on social media.
Due to unrest in the Kashmir Valley, there have been a large number of Internet shutdowns in the region. In the months of April, May and June, there had been four mobile Internet shutdowns in different parts of the country. The latest was on May 29 in Jammu and Kashmir after militant Sabzar Bhat was killed in an encounter. Internet was cut for a week in this instance. Internet services were cut twice in April. Internet services were cut on April 18 following student protests across universities and colleges. The incident was sparked as some students in Pulwama Degree College were beaten by government forces. On April 8, both broadband and mobile Internet services were suspended on the eve of the by-polls to the Srinagar parliamentary seat.
Typically, mobile Internet bans are enforced under the Section 144 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) where it targets unlawful assembly. Section 144 of the CrPC can usually be invoked by a district magistrate or the collector. To curb incidents of riots or mobs, magistrates or district collectors cut mobile Internet to stop the spread of rumours on social media.
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 2016.
Pressure from advocacy groups
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that there have been 20 internet shutdowns in 2017. It added that Indian authorities should cease arbitrary restrictions of the country’s Internet and telecommunications networks. “Shutdowns in response to campaigns on social media and mobile mass messaging applications spreading false and even incendiary information have frequently been disproportionate,” the group said.
The Centre for Communication Governance at NLU Delhi counts more than 40 instances in two years where the internet was suspended for emergencies. In May, two United Nations human rights experts had called on India to restore internet and social media networks in Jammu and Kashmir, in a statement released today. While Internet access is working now in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government banned 22 social media sites/apps on 17th of April 2017.