At least 54 out of the 127 internet shutdowns reported between 2020 and 2022 in India were in response to protests, a report published by the Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation has said.
The internet was banned to prevent cheating in examinations in 37 instances, to prevent communal violence in 18 cases and to address other law and order concerns in 18 cases, said the report released on Wednesday.
“This number does not include internet shutdowns in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir where the authorities continued to shut down the internet more than any other place in the country,” it added.
In 2022, international digital rights group Access Now had said India recorded the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world in 2021 for the fourth year in a row. Out of the 182 internet shutdowns globally in 2021, India alone accounted for 106, the report had said. Of these, 85 were reported in Jammu and Kashmir as part of “counterterrorism measures” by the government.
In Wednesday’s report, the Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation said internet shutdowns were reported in 18 states in India between 2020 to 2022.
Of these, 11 states did not publish suspension orders as directed by the Supreme Court. These states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana.
“Even if orders were published, the authorities often failed to justify the apprehension of risk to public safety,” the report said. “Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, and Assam governments shut down the internet to prevent cheating in examinations, which was clearly an unnecessary and disproportionate response.”
The highest number of internet shutdowns were reported in Rajasthan, where of the total 85 orders, 44 were to prevent protests or in response to them. At least 28 orders were issued to prevent cheating in examinations, nine to prevent communal violence or in response to it, and four to address other law and order concerns in the state.
Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation said their report is based on research and interviews conducted in India from July 2022 to February 2023.
The two organisations spoke to more than 20 lawyers, lawmakers, digital rights experts, civil society activists and journalists to understand how internet shutdowns affect access to other basic rights.
“Most journalists who spoke to Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation said that in the absence of the internet, people relied more on rumours, which can cause panic and create greater insecurity,” the report said.