SMS and mobile internet has been suspended in Shillong, according to The Hindu. Meghalaya’s Chief Minister’s Office confirmed to MediaNama that there was an internet shutdown in place on Monday. An argument between a bus driver from the Khasi community and a minority Sikh woman is reported by Scroll.in to have escalated into a city-wide curfew, which resulted in this shutdown. Indrakshi Chaudhury, a graduate student at Shillong’s North-Eastern Hill University, said that access to mobile internet across multiple carriers has been blocked. The Chief Minister’s Office said that the shutdown has been in place since Friday.
MediaNama has reached out to Airtel to verify the nature of the shutdown.
WhatsApp rumours led to tensions
The Scroll report says that while the dispute between the Khasi bus driver and the Sikh woman was resolved, WhatsApp messages spread fake news that night that two Khasi boys were decapitated by a group of Sikhs. An angry mob then gathered at Punjabi Line, a slum where much of Shillong’s Sikh minority lives. Tear gas shells were used to disperse the crowd. Since then, a city-wide curfew has been in place, with a brief break to let tourists leave.
SMS on top of mobile internet has been shut down. Chaudhury, the graduate student, said that while SMS worked on Jio, messages were not going through on BSNL.
Internet shutdowns in India
Most internet shutdowns come as a bid by the district administration to paralyze rumour-mongering and further inflaming of tensions. While the telecom department issued rules to regulate internet shutdowns by administrators, it’s unclear if procedure was followed in implementing that ban.
Just over two weeks ago, protests against the expansion of a copper-smelting plant in Thoothukudi, where police shot and killed protesters, were met with a complete shutdown of mobile and broadband internet. This piece on The News Minute looks at the fallout of that shutdown, the day after internet was restored.
According to the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre’s Internet shutdown tracker, there have been 55 internet shutdowns in 2018 so far. That number does not include the Shillong shutdown. At this rate, there will be more than a hundred internet shutdowns in India this year, handily beating 2017’s record 70 shutdowns.