Internet services have been shut down by authorities on multiple occasions in parts of as many as eight states in the last one month, most recently in the North East amid protests against the amended Citizenship Act, The Hindu reported on Monday. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, entered its 135th day of internet shutdown, making it the second longest such period in India ever.
In November, the services were suspended in Agra and Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh ahead of the Ayodhya verdict by the Supreme Court. The long-awaited verdict on the land dispute was delivered on November 9.
Since last week, the government has imposed a similar clampdown on telecommunication services in parts of Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The restrictions remained in Shillong on Tuesday, but those in Assam were removed in the morning.
Assam had turned out to be the epicentre of the protests against the recent amendments to the Citizenship Act. There is a widespread fear in the North East that populations defined as indigenous to the region will be culturally and physically overrun by migrants as a result of this law’s provisions. Elsewhere in India, the bill has been opposed due to its allegedly discriminatory view towards Muslims.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the restrictions were imposed on August 4, the night before the Centre announced its intention to revoke the former state’s special constitutional status. The legislation to the effect was approved in Parliament that week, but the internet shutdown remained as a preventive measure. The restrictions now only remain in the Kashmir Valley.
The previous longest internet shutdown in India was also in Jammu and Kashmir. It lasted 202 days – from July 8, 2016 to January 7, 2017 – following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani. Postpaid and SMS services were restored on November 18, 2016, but restrictions on prepaid internet use remained until January 7 the next year, The Hindu reported.
Jammu and Kashmir has seen as many as 193 occasions of internet blocks since 2016, followed by Rajasthan, with 42 such instances, the newspaper reported.
According to The Washington Post, residents in Srinagar refer to a train as “Internet Express” as it takes them to the nearest town where they can access the internet. Only authoritarian governments such as China and Myanmar have cut off the internet services for longer, data from Access Now showed.