Internet services were suspended in the entire Barak Valley of Assam – consisting of three districts – for at least four days following communal clashes in Hailankandi town. Internet services were snapped (see here and here) on the night of May 10th (Friday) in Hailakandi, Cachar, and Karimganj districts after violence broke out in Hailakandi town, leaving one person dead and several injured. An SMS informing subscribers of the suspension was sent out by telecom providers; it read, “As per government instructions, internet services have been stopped in your area until further notice, REGINF” with a translation in Assamese as well. “We have suspended our mobile internet services since 7 pm on Friday across Barak Valley stretching up to Dima Hasao and shall follow further notices from the Government in this regard,” a senior BSNL official told The Assam Tribune. Dima Hasao district neighbours the Cachar disrict.

We’ve reached out to the DC office of Hailakandi district, but have not heard back from them yet.

Curfew was intermittently imposed in Hailakandi town (where the violence took place); many vehicles, shops, property were looted and set ablaze in the clash. Internet services in all three districts were restored on the morning of May 14th. On the day the ban was lifted, Hailakandi DC Keerthi Jalli urged the public not to believe what was being circulated on social media and to cross-check and verify information with the district administration. A control room was opened for the public to report untoward incidents and objectionable content online.

Image Courtesy: mapsofindia.com

DC Keerthi Jalli had said on May 13th that internet services would be restored the next day. Jalli also said that the administration had formed a monitoring cell to keep a close watch on activities on social media. She said that people who circulated instigating messages on the day of clash would be identified and arrested. She also admitted that disruption of internet services was affecting people and banking services.

Internet services were suspended last year after two men were lynched

The only other known instance of an internet suspension in Assam was in June 2018, when two men were lynched by a mob after they were mistaken for child kidnappers. The two men were traveling to a town in the state’s Karbi Anglong district. Villagers suspected them of being the child abducters they had been warned about on WhatsApp, and cited a fake video that purportedly showed a child being abducted. Mobile internet and SMS services were then suspended for a few hours in Guwahati to prevent the spread of rumours. Days after the lynching, the Assam police booked 35 people for spreading hateful messages on social media. Six were arrested in Guwahati for spreading rumours relating to the lynching.