In June 2019, there were 11 instances of internet shutdowns reported in India, according to SFLC’s internet shutdown tracker. Of these 11 instances, 7 were ordered in Jammu & Kashmir, while West Bengal saw internet shutdowns on two different occasions. Internet services in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha were snapped one time each. So far in 2019, India has witnessed 59 reported instances of internet shutdowns.
Here is a state-wise breakdown of shutdowns in this month:
Jammu & Kashmir
June 30: Mobile internet services were suspended in Budgam after a terrorist was killed in an encounter with the security forces.
June 23: The government snapped internet services in Kashmir’s Shopian after a gunfight broke out between militants and counter- insurgent forces in Darmdora village in Panzer Keegam area.
June 19: Authorities suspended internet service in Anantnag as a precautionary measure on the 25th death anniversary of UeL founder Mirwaiz Qazi Nissar Ahmad.
June 14: After the army killed two Lashkar militants in an encounter in Pulwama district, all internet services were snapped in the area.
June 12: Following clashes between local youth and security forces in Kashmir’s Anantnag, internet was shutdown in the town.
June 8: Mobile Internet was suspended in parts of Anantnag after security forces killed a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant in an operation in a forest area of Anantnag.
June 3: Authorities suspended internet services in Shopian district’s Molu-Chitragam area following an encounter between the army and militants in Shopian district.
June 20: Internet services were snapped in parts of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district following clashes between BJP and TMC workers that killed 3 and left another 10 injured. The shutdown affected three of the district’s five divisions – Bongaon, Barrackpore and Bashirhat.
June 9: With graphic images of slain BJP and TMC party workers in the clashes circulating on the social media, internet services were suspended in the Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency.
June 10: Internet services were suspended in Khair tehsil until midnight, after fake video clips claiming to show the murder of a two-year-old girl were found circulating online. The posts were reportedly likely to inflame communal tensions.
June 5: The Odisha government suspended Internet services in Kendrapara for 48 hours “as a preventive measure” following a skirmish between two groups there on the eve the Eid-ul-Fitr and circulation of inflammatory messages on social media.
59 shutdowns in 6 months is an average of almost 10 shutdowns every month. If we carry on with this average, we are well on course to cross over 100 internet shutdowns soon. It’s worth noting that in 2018, the 100 shutdowns mark was crossed in September.
Jammu & Kashmir account for 80% of all shutdowns in 2019 so far
- So far in 2019, Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed 44 shutdowns, accounting for over 80% of all internet shutdowns in the country this year. By the end of last year, it accounted for almost half of all internet shutdowns. Out of the total 134 internet shutdowns last year, 65 happened in Jammu & Kashmir.
- Between 2012-2018, there were 125 internet shutdowns in Jammu & Kashmir out of the 331 internet shutdowns in India in the same period. The first reported instances of internet shutdowns in the state were in 2013, with 3 in total that year. It was the only state to have internet shutdowns in 2013 and 2014.
Shutdowns on the rise
- Between January 2012-19, there have been a total of 331 reported cases of internet shutdowns in India.
- In 2018, there were reported 134 internet shutdowns, as opposed to the 79 Internet shutdowns in 2017, and just 6 internet shutdowns in 2014.
The actual number of internet shutdowns is in all likelihood much higher, since shutdowns are ordered secretively by state governments, and not always reported by the news media.
India’s rules on internet shutdowns
Internet shutdowns in India are governed by a set of rules published by the DoT in 2017, which replaced the even more arbitrary procedure of enforcement through orders issued by a District Magistrate. The current rules still enable the imposition of an internet shutdown through executive orders, but these may only be issued by a secretary to the central or state government and are subject to review by a central government committee.
Do internet shutdowns actually work?
It is debatable whether such shutdowns do a lot to help the political situation in a region. Apart from offline mobilisation, groups who wish to demonstrate publicly make use of VPN technologies to circumvent these shutdowns. Rather than enabling violence, communication online is often used to disseminate information and also send out messages asking for and providing assistance. This is apparent in the adverse affect on armed forces personnel — communication between those on duty is hampered by the removal of a fast and secure messaging-based communication channel. Online services generally employ higher encryption standards than legacy communication channels used in India, and the loss of access to these applications renders communication between the personnel more vulnerable to compromise.