India Tops The Chart Of Countries That Shut Down The Internet The Most

India Tops The Chart Of Countries That Shut Down The Internet The Most

Like a lot of urban 20-year-olds, I wake up in the morning check my e-mails, messages and browse through social media. Since I live in Mumbai, I check the weather app hoping and praying that it does not rain. Living away from home I then send my parents a customary “I am alive” photograph on Whatsapp. I watch a TV show on Netflix through my breakfast and then, thanks to my below average navigating skills use Google Maps to find my way to work. My point is that without the internet, something we often take for granted, I don’t know how a lot of my day would function. It turns out that over the last two years while we’ve been scrolling through our Instagram feeds, the Indian government has been conducting internet blackouts across the country.

Between January 2016 and May 2018, 154 shutdowns were imposed, making India the country that tops the chart by a large margin when it comes to internet blackouts. Pakistan is second on the list followed by Iraq and Yemen (as of 2018), as per Statista data.

This year, which began with a swelling farmers’ protest in India, saw the government banning the Twitter handles of the The Caravan (one of the foremost journals of politics and culture in India), as well as 250 other accounts reporting regularly about the farmers’ agitation. As of 2 February, 2021, internet blackouts continue in 7 Haryana districts in the country to curb farmers’ protests in the state.

Earlier, India had seen complete internet shutdowns in the Kashmir Valley, Delhi, Rajasthan, Darjeeling (West Bengal) and many other regions from time to time.

“These shutdowns seem to be spreading from border states to much more of mainland India. It’s becoming a regular tool of administrative practice,” said Apar Gupta, a co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, during a conversation with Vice News. It’s not censorship but a complete denial of an outlet for dialogue and the dispersion of information– in a way, going against Indians’ right to freedom of speech and expression. The usual grounds on which the government cuts off access to the internet are to avoid turmoil during protests and in order to carry out military operations. These reasons might make sense when viewed from a regulatory body’s perspective, but how is the “largest democracy in the world” going to function if people can’t express their views and opinions during times of political unrest? Is silencing the citizens and preventing them from access to information, especially during times of crisis, the best solution?

In August 2017, rules governing internet shutdowns were codified to telegraph laws drafted in the colonial period; this was done to facilitate regulation of internet cut-offs. The regulation of internet access not only threatens the citizens’ freedom of speech and expression but has had economic repercussions too. A report drafted by The Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) states that internet downtime between 2012 and 2017 has cost the Indian economy USD 3.04 billion.

The governing bodies need to step back and reassess the situation with respect to the larger picture and take into account the fact that the internet has become the leading vehicle to generate discourse, obtain information and carry out day-to-day tasks for many. The need to bring about order is not problematic until it starts crossing the extremely thin line between regulating and controlling.

Watch the complete Vice News report here. Read the full report by Forbes here.

Representational feature image courtesy of Forbes.

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