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Representational Image : Reuters
Very recently, on 5 June and 6 June, the government had shut down the internet in the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, during the farmer agitation. Meanwhile, on 7 June, the People’s Development Party (PDP) had called for a shutdown of the internet in Jammu and Kashmir when a civilian was killed by security forces. The following day, the shutdown was called in Uttar Pradesh, where a Dalit leader had been arrested following a clash between the upper and the lower caste.
In all these cases, the shutdown was used as a preventative measure so that India’s internal administrative machinery does not get jeopardised, since most of the content encouraging violence was circulated through social media apps like WhatsApp or Facebook. From merely three instances of shutdown in 2012 to a massive leap of 20 cases in 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir’s shutdown, in early May, was condemned by the United Nations (UN). The UN special rapporteur, David Kaye, said, “The internet and telecommunications bans have the character of collective punishment [and] fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression.” The government authorities had banned all social media websites, like Whatsapp, Facebook, and Twitter.
According to the data provided by the Software Freedom Law Centre, most of these shutdowns happen on the internet used through mobile services. Reacting to this data, the Human Rights Watch, South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly said, “Indian authorities’ concerns over the misuse of the internet and social media should not be the default option to prevent social unrest.” She further said, “The lack of transparency and failure to explain these shutdowns only further the perception that they are meant to suppress nonviolent reporting and criticism of the government.”