New Delhi: Arbitrary internet shutdowns are disproportionately hurting vulnerable communities in India, which shuts down the internet more than any other country in the world, a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said Wednesday.
There were 127 blackouts in India between January 2020 and Dec. 31, 2022, at least once in 18 of India’s 28 states, the report, titled “No Internet Means No Work, No Pay, No Food’: Internet Shutdowns Deny Access to Basic Rights in ‘Digital India,” said.
“State governments used internet shutdowns in 54 cases to prevent or in response to protests, 37 to prevent cheating in school examinations or in exams for government jobs, 18 in response to communal violence, and 18 for other law and order concerns,” it said.
The report comes during an indefinite internet ban in the state of Manipur – already in its 40th day – to contain an outbreak of ethnic violence that has claimed almost 100 lives.
The longest internet shutdown in the country was in 2019, when the Indian government blocked all communication networks in the Jammu and Kashmir region “to prevent Kashmiris from organizing protests after the government revoked the state’s constitutional autonomous status, splitting it into two separate federally governed territories,” according to the report.
“While some services were gradually restored, mobile 4G internet access remained effectively down for over 500 days, until February 2021,” the document added.
“Just imagine the number of times you use the internet in a day. For entertainment, for information, for job applications, for education, to connect with your loved ones, for checking up on things, for ordering things, for travel, for ticketing, for studying—it’s for every aspect of life,” a journalist based in Srinagar – the state’s capital – told HRW on condition of anonymity.
Not only is access to the internet essential for freedom of expression and economic and social rights, it has and will “increasingly become vital for the realization of the rights to social security, education, health, work, and the right to food, among others,” the report said.
Disrupting mobile internet translates into a blackout that particularly affects people who cannot afford fixed line internet, the report noted, a situation that is further aggravated in rural and remote areas with little to no access to fixed line internet.
“When the internet is shut down, I have no work, do not get paid, cannot withdraw any money from my account, and cannot even get food rations,” a 35-year-old Dalit woman, mother of five, told HRW in the state of Rajasthan.
Ninety-six percent of Indians use their mobile devices to access the Internet, while only 4 percent have fixed line connections, according to the report.
Internet shutdowns also impact food subsidies to the country’s most economically and socially marginalized populations, which are linked to the country’s biometric identity card, Aadhaar.
The ration shops require the internet for Aadhaar authentication before providing food supplies which means that if the internet does not work, they cannot deliver the subsidized food.
Please visit our website London Institute of Peace Research for latest peace news