Indian Government Sets New Record For 'Internet Shutdown By A Democracy'
from the headed-down-to-the-UN-to-collect-its-medal... dept
India’s internet blockade targeting the Kashmir state has set a dubious record that really shouldn’t be held by a government that considers itself a democracy.
It is now 134 days since the seven million residents of Kashmir had regular access to the internet beyond a handful of government controlled outlets, the longest denial of access by a democratic state.
This brings India close to its nearest competitors in shutdown longevity, China and Myanmar — neither of which consider themselves responsive to public concerns or demands. Ever since the Kashmir region lost its autonomy earlier this year, the Indian government has been in crackdown mode. The easiest way to control a population you feel needs more controlling is to remove their communication options.
When the region was still independent, it engaged in its own internet blackouts. But those were nothing compared to the Indian government’s efforts, which began with the selective censorship of certain content and expanded to eliminate access to almost everything internet-related.
The excuse for the blackout is national security. The Indian government claims it’s necessary to prevent Pakistani-led terror groups from organizing. Whether or not that’s been effective, the elimination of internet connectivity has done severe damage to the region’s population. People with no connection to terror groups and otherwise uninterested in shrugging off the Indian government’s shackles are being hurt.
Asmita Bakshi’s article for LiveMint covers the human cost of the internet shutdown. Killing off the internet has disabled support systems for women targeted by violent acts and made people — like Uber driver Dipesh Sharma — pretty much unemployed.
His earnings are crucial for his family—his wife and daughter, parents and younger siblings, all of whom he supports financially. He also pays ?4,000 as rent for his two-room accommodation and ?11,000 as monthly instalment for his vehicle.
The weekend without mobile internet, therefore, was particularly hard on him. “Saturday-Sunday aap samajh lo main berozgaar tha (On Saturday-Sunday, it was like I was jobless),” he says.
One doesn’t typically view India as an authoritarian regime, but Baskhi’s report points out India’s 134 internet shutdowns in 2018 outpaced a number of countries with worse international reputations, including a handful of nations on the UN’s human rights blacklist. Its 2018 total was more than Russia, Congo, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines combined.
The long-term shutdown is also causing other collateral damage. The region’s service providers are losing money every day no one’s paying for internet access they don’t actually have. Since they’re at the mercy of the government, they’re being forced to bleed cash until the Indian government feels it’s “safe” enough to lift the blockade.
On top of that, there’s further annoyance ahead for residents if the Indian government ever decides to give them back their internet connections. As James Vincent reports for The Verge, those affected by the blockade will likely have to rebuild their personal social networks from scratch.
On Wednesday, reports on social media appeared of Kashmiri WhatsApp users leaving group chats in droves. This was a surprise to friends and relatives outside the region given that India has shut down Kashmir’s internet for over four months as part of a dispute over the area’s autonomy.
Some thought the activity might be sign of a further crackdown, but, as first reported by BuzzFeed News, the accounts are being automatically removed in line with Facebook’s inactivity policy. If users don’t log into their account for 120 days (four months), they’re deactivated, meaning individuals will have to sign up to the service again.
It’s not an insignificant loss for WhatsApp, which has almost five times as many users in India than it does in the United States. It’s definitely a significant loss for Indian users, whose government has managed to terminate their accounts through an extremely disruptive action followed by more than three months of inaction.
The Indian government may be claiming this is a national security necessity, but the reality is it’s insulating itself from criticism and preventing unhappy Kashmir residents from organizing or protesting the absorption of the previously-independent region. Any collateral damage here is acceptable because it helps the Indian government achieve its goal of complete control.