Islamabad: India has ranked first in the world for shutting off the internet over the past five years, according to Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and other digital rights watchdogs.
In the first six months of this year, it imposed almost as many shutdowns as it did in all of 2022, according to Surf shark, a Netherlands-based virtual private network (VPN) provider.
Besides, internet shut down, government also routinely blocks specific websites or successfully pushes social media platforms to block content in India. Last year, that included nearly 7,000 posts and social media accounts, according to the nonprofit Access Now.
Manipur entered its 100th day of an internet shutdown a far broader debate has emerged across India about use of shutdowns, whether they work, and what social and economic costs they bring on.
Internet shutdowns began in India on Aug. 5, 2019, when IIOJK faced world’s longest internet shutdown lasting 552 days imposed after controversially revoking state’s constitutional autonomy. To date, India has experienced an over whopping 752 shutdowns since 2012, SFLC.in estimates. In 2021, internet was switched off when Indian farmers staged a month’s long protest against new farm laws in Delhi. In 2022, it was switched off in Udaipur city due to mob activity. It was switched off once more when Punjab on the eve of manhunt to track down Amritpal Singh, a Sikh leader. “Whether it’s 78 days in Manipur or 552 days in Kashmir, internet shutdowns constitute a digital war in today’s India,” said Mishi Choudhary, an Indian technology lawyer based in the U.S. who founded SFLC.in.
Top10VPN, a global digital privacy and research organization, estimates the overall cost of shutdowns in India was $184.3 million in 2022. The figure is likely an underestimate; it excludes the informal work sector and not every shutdown is reported.
In Kashmir, for example, at least 500,000 people mostly in the tourism sector became unemployed as a result of the shutdown in 2019, according to a report by the Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
According to one estimate, India was responsible for the most shutdowns in 2022, for the fifth consecutive year, with 84 shutdowns out of 187 globally.