Why the Long Internet Shutdown in J&K Is Doing More Harm Than Good

Why the Long Internet Shutdown in J&K Is Doing More Harm Than Good

India

Editors: Ashutosh Bharadwaj & Abhishek Sharma
Camera: Sushovan Sircar & Vakasha Sachdeva

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, speaking on the sidelines of former Union minister Arun Jaitley’s funeral on Sunday, 25 August, remarked,

“If a communication shutdown helps save lives, then where is the harm? Not a single human life has been lost in these many days.”
Satya Pal Malik, Governor, J&K

However, extensive research and tracking of internet shutdowns in India and globally have revealed that restrictions on communications do more tangible harm that good.

"Our attitude that there should be no loss of human life. 10 din telephone nahi honge, nahi honge, lekin hum bahut jaldi sab wapas kar denge. (If there is no phone connection for 10 days, so be it. But we will restore everything soon)," Malik had told reporters in New Delhi.

In fact, a study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations’ pegs the economic loss from internet shutdowns between 2012 and 2017 at approximately Rs 22,154 crore.

Just days after Article 370 was effectively revoked, PM Narendra Modi reached out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh via Twitter. However, it’s quite unlikely that anyone in the Valley read his tweets as Internet access has remained suspended in the region since 1 August to “maintain law and order”.

Three weeks since the abolition of Article 370 and the communication lockdown still persists.

What Is An Internet shutdown?

“What is clear about this internet shutdown is that it is massive, it is widespread, it is not just the mobile internet it is landline connectivity it is fixed line broadband connections. It is a near total internet shutdown,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy Director, Access Now.

The Quint spoke to experts on human rights in digital spaces to understand the consequences and the impact of a near-total restriction on Internet access.

According to Access Now, a global organisation advocating human rights in digital spaces, “An internet shutdown happens when someone – usually government –intentionally disrupts the Internet or mobile apps to control what people say or do.”

India Leads the World in Internet Shutdowns

Since 2012, India has ordered 345 internet shutdowns – more than any other country in the world.

More than half of the reported shutdowns (178) have been in Jammu & Kashmir. The current shutdown is the 53rd instance in 2019 alone.

The map shows the 178 reported Internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir as of 9 August 2019, significantly higher than any other state. 
The map shows the 178 reported Internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir as of 9 August 2019, significantly higher than any other state. 
(Photo Courtesy: internetshutdows)

“Actually, Jammu and Kashmir was the first state where Internet shutdown was officially documented in 2013 close to Republic Day and this again repeated itself close to Independence Day,” Apar Gupta, Executive Director, Internet Freedom Foundation told The Quint.

“We thought this was fairly shameful and normalised the practice in which the Internet is completely shut down,” he added.

In 2017, even the United Nations had condemned the month-long restrictions on the Internet but this time it appears to be different from the previous 177 instances.

Why is This Shutdown Different?

Even though the Valley has had frequent trysts with intermittent Internet shutdowns, observes believe the one ordered in August stands out for its breadth and scope.

“The fact of this near-total shutdown is unique perhaps even in Kashmir’s case. It is definitely unique for India. Most of the time when Internet shutdowns happen in India, they tend to be for mobile internet or for short periods of time,” said Chima.

“This is a near-total shutdown and one that is planned for with government servants and paramilitary officials being reported to have been distributed satellite phones in advance, which seems that they are planning a long Internet shutdown,” Chima added. 

How is Everyday Life Affected?

DMK Lok Sabha MP Dr D Ravikumar told The Quint that “It is more dangerous than imposing curfew because if you impose an internet shutdowns you cannot use ATM, you cannot use credit cards.”

Apar Gupta added that the financial cost of a shutdown on individuals is especially hard “even affecting people from getting petrol or diesel filled in their cars. So, that’s the level of impact.”

Why are Internet Shutdowns Paradoxical in India?

“Internet shutdowns are actually some kind of a paradox in our country where, on one side the government says we are going digital so everything has to be done digitally... So your banking is done digitally, your communication is done digitally, your speaking to the state is done digitally,” said Usha Ramanathan.

“Every service that exists is done digitally. Your entitlements are digital and then they shut down the Internet.”

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