Shutting down the internet deliberately is becoming a distinct strategy for Indian administrators. The number of internet shutdowns has been doubling every year since 2014, a curious phenomenon considering the country’s aspirations to become “Digital India”.
There were an astounding 31 internet shutdowns in India in 2016. And in 2017, there have already been 14 by the end of April. The reasons cited by the government for imposing these shutdowns have ranged from preventing riots and protests to cheating during exams.
In most cases in India, internet shutdowns were imposed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is a means to curb danger in emergencies. But it could be argued that the use of this section to stop internet access is an exploitation of that power and an impediment to freedom of speech.
Also, as the video above notes, internet shutdowns have strong financial repercussions. They cost India Rs 6,485 crore in 2015-16, according to Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation. These numbers in fact may be an underestimate, as they only considered Gross Domestic Product and ignore other areas.
Frequent internet shutdowns are actually counterproductive measures that are typically imposed in non-democratic countries. They are not helpful in economies aiming to be cashless or digitally empowered. Nor in cases, such as in Bangalore in 2016, when the police used social media and the internet to prevent panic in volatile areas during violent incidents.
A petition has been started in response to this phenomenon by the Internet Freedom Foundation India, titled “Don’t Shut India Down”. It says: “When governments shut down the internet, the real objective is to silence journalists and citizens from criticising the government.” This petition joins the global #KeepItOn movement by Access Now.
In July 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning internet shutdowns, which appears to have had no impact on India whatsoever.