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J&K internet shutdowns: 97 and counting in 6 years

Mobile services were suspended in the Kashmir valley for five hours and internet services suspended for 11 hours “as a precautionary measure” yesterday, on India’s 71st Independence Day, to prevent rumour spreading and triggering of IEDs by militants, per Greater Kashmir.

The valley was under a complete shutdown called by separatist group Joint Resistance Leadership. Shops and business establishments remained shut while police and paramilitary were deployed heavily, along with check posts. 

Only BSNL’s landline service and its wired-internet facilities were working, per The Tribune. “All other services across all network operators have been barred,” The Tribune quoted an official as saying. Internet was suspended from 1 am to 12 pm and voice calling was suspended from 7 am to 12 pm; both services were restored by evening.

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Internet suspension on Independence Day is the norm

Suspension of mobile and internet services in the state on Independence Day is a norm.

  • In 2017, mobile and internet services of all cellular companies, including the state-run BSNL were suspended in Kashmir valley, including in the summer capital of Srinagar.
  • On July 8, 2016, Hizbul Mujaheedin leader Burhan Wani was shot and killed by security forces; the next day, internet services were suspended in the entire state, mobile services were suspended on pre-paid numbers. Internet services were restored in Jammu after 17 days on July 26. In the Kashmir Valley, internet was restored on post-paid services on November 16 — more than five months later. Internet on pre-paid phones was restored on January 17, 2017, after a six-month ban.
  • On August 13, 2016, even broadband services were suspended up till the end of Independence Day celebrations, amidst a mobile internet shutdown.
  • Internet services are typically suspended even ahead of Republic Day celebrations. In fact, since 2003 (when mobile phones were introduced in the state), internet has been suspended each year with two exceptions on Republic Days in 2015 and 2018.

Almost 100 shutdowns in just six years

With this shutdown, the number of internet suspensions in Jammu & Kashmir since 2012 stands at 97, just shy of 100. To put this in perspective, there have been 96 shutdowns in the entire country in 2018. With just eight months into 2018, J&K has already seen 37 reported internet shutdowns this year, much higher than 32 shutdowns last year. Note that these are known suspensions of internet services, it is likely that there have been more which did not become public knowledge.

Internet shutdowns are ordered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017, under the Telegraph Act. The rule enables home departments of state and central governments to order suspension of internet services “due to public emergency or public safety.” The rule was notified in August 2017. Internet shutdowns have rapidly been increasing in the last two-three years. There were a total of 31 reported internet shutdowns in 2016 and this has increased three-fold with 97 shutdowns this year up till now.

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