India remains trigger-happy on internet shutdowns

On the first day of 2021, Indian authorities cut internet access in Jammu and Kashmir, which would go on to see more internet shutdowns that year than any other place on Earth, notes a new report on internet shutdowns by AccessNow. Later that month, the Indian government imposed additional shutdowns to quell protests surrounding Republic Day.

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By the end of the year, India was responsible for at least 106 such incidents, making it the worst offender on internet shutdowns for the fourth year in a row. India accounted for almost half (47%) of the 182 internet shutdowns worldwide in 2021.

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Of the 106 shutdowns in India documented by AccessNow, 85 were in Jammu and Kashmir alone. The report noted that this was a region where authorities “continue to impose intentional internet disruptions that last for long periods, disrupting and endangering people’s lives for months on end”.

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Incomplete picture: AccessNow said it was possible that it hadn’t documented every shutdown in India because of a lack of government transparency.

It said the government’s failure to create and maintain a database of shutdown orders across the country was a violation of the 2017 Suspension Rules and the Supreme Court order backing them.

Under the wrong spotlight: Internet shutdowns in India drew international attention and condemnation in 2021, the report said. The government cut internet access in a “clear attempt” to suppress the farmers’ protests, it said, and “plainly sought” to prevent protesters from communicating with one another and obstruct reporters.


Despite this, the government failed to conceal its violent crackdown, and world governments and international celebrities Greta Thunberg and Rihanna spoke out against the violence and disruptions, the report said.


Shame old story: AccessNow said the persistent use of internet shutdowns in India despite the global outcry and regulations requiring more transparency means the situation on the ground hasn’t improved much over the years.

Why it matters: Regardless of the context or rationale, the report noted, internet shutdowns are an attack on human rights.

The pandemic has highlighted the consequences of disconnecting people from the internet, which is now critical for access to everything from education, work and banking services to information, culture, entertainment, and basic daily communication.

“It is our hope this report serves as a warning: ignore internet shutdowns at your peril. They are never a sign of respect for human rights, a healthy democracy, or effective governance,” the report said.

Silver lining: In December 2021, India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology released a report highlighting the misuse of internet shutdowns, and their impact on rights and freedoms. It recommended that the government reform the framework governing the suspension of telecom and internet services.

While the report had many positive recommendations to increase transparency and accountability, and strengthen safeguards, the report noted it didn’t condemn the use of internet shutdowns.

Written by Zaheer Merchant in Mumbai.


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Curated by Judy Franko in New Delhi. Graphics and illustrations by Rahul Awasthi.

That’s all from us this week. Stay safe.

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