By: Aayush Anandan
On 6th of February, the virtual lockdown of Kashmir finally came to an end as the 4G internet services were finally restored in the region. The return of 4G internet in the region came at a time when the internet was shut down in parts of Delhi to isolate the farmers. In a democratic land, the suspension of internet services has recently become a symbol of oppression.
The Indian government has suspended internet access more than any other democratic country in the world and the recent trends clearly portray a pattern that shutdowns have moved from the borders of India to mainland and metro cities.The region of Kashmir has by far the most internet shutdowns but Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan have experienced such incidents.
The government officials have repeatedly maintained that the shutdowns were merely a method to prevent the spread of misinformation and control the law and order situation of that specific area. It can help destabilize a gathering as there will not be another way of communicating with the people but in any scenario, such a drastic step feels draconian and comes at a cost.
According to the top10vpn report, internet shutdowns cost the government approximately $2.7 billion in 2020. Considering that the shutdowns accumulated were equivalent to 8,365 hours, internet shutdowns cost India Rs 2 crore per hour.
The story of Kashmir is a tragic one. The beautiful region was punished with a virtual lockdown since August of 2019 and only gained heavily restricted connectivity from March 4th of 2020. It took the government another eleven months to grant them full access even though our Supreme Court declared that such indefinite shutdowns are against the constitution.
It is worrying that the population was collectively punished at a time when they could not leave homes and education or work were preferably done remotely from home. This prolonged decision has already affected the present and future of a large portion of people.
Such internet shutdowns heavily affect other citizens of the region as many cannot access basic
necessities such as medical, educational and financial services and they have their daily life under the mercy of the government officials.
In instances where the government cannot shut down the internet, they have pressurised social media companies to block accounts on their behalf. Even though twitter is known for its biased behaviour, they were surprisingly stubborn against the Modi government and refused to shut down accounts stating that they won’t contribute in snatching the fundamental rights from the citizens that this very government was elected to represent.
According to the website Internet Shutdowns, Eight shutdowns have already occurred so far in India in 2021. Usually, there’s no information from the government about a possible suspension or when the shutdown will end. Sometimes they last a few hours or in Kashmir’s case, it could stretch to 18 months.
India shut down the internet 121 times in 2019. The country that was placed second in the list was an authoritarian regime of Venezuela, where the government shut down the internet 12 times last year. The disparity is unpleasant and one can only hope that we see a downward trend in the coming years.
In today’s modern world, people cannot function without the use of the internet and this practice of ‘punishment for all’ must end.
Longer internet blackouts than this have occurred only in countries like China and Myanmar, not democracies like India.