India, the world’s largest democracy, tops the shameful list of world’s highest internet censorship. This week, a whopping 60 million people in the country have no internet access.
As New Delhi is frequently adopting provocative policies, it is using a tactic to suffocate the dissent that is more commonly associated with authoritarian regimes, not democracies, says The New York Times.
India tops the world — by far — in the number of internet shutdowns carried out by local, state and the central governments. Last year, internet service was cut in India 134 times, and so far this year, 93 shutdowns have happened, according to SFLC which relies on reports from journalists, advocacy groups and citizens.
India’s arch-foes Pakistan only had 12 shutdowns last year. Syria and Turkey — countries not known for their democratic freedom shut down the internet just once in 2018.
“Any time there is a sign of agitation, that is the first weapon in the armoury,” said Mishi Choudhary, founder of SFLC, a legal advocacy group in New Delhi that has traced India’s internet shutdowns since 2012. “When maintenance of law and order is your priority, you are not thinking about free speech.”
Last week, citing a threat of violence and false rumours, officials in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura cut the internet connection in response to demonstrations against a new citizenship bill that analysts say would marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. Much of West Bengal and parts of Uttar Pradesh, two of India’s most populated states, were also put under digital imprisonment.
With the Kashmir region still languishing offline since August, at least 60 million people have been cut off — roughly the population of France.
These moves come as PM Narendra Modi hardens his grip on India. His administration has detained hundreds of Kashmiris without charges, intimidated journalists, arrested intellectuals and subdued gloomy economic reports. His critics say he is weakening India’s deeply rooted traditions of democracy and secularism, and steadily marking out dissent.
With half a billion Indians online, the officials say they are simply trying to stop the spread of offensive and misleading content, which can move faster on Facebook, WhatsApp and other services than their ability to control it.
But as the internet becomes more indispensable to all aspects of life, the blockades affect far more than protesters or those involved in politics. The shutdowns can be calamitous to people just trying to make a living.
In Kashmir, internet service was terminated on Aug. 5, when New Delhi withdrew the contentious Article 370 which gave special autonomy to the region, sent in thousands of troops to quell protests and incapacitated all communication to choke the dissent. The internet has now been off 135 days.
Via: The New York Times. Edited By The EurAsian Times