Editorial: The Effects Of Anti-Democratic Internet Shutdowns

Editorial: The Effects Of Anti-Democratic Internet Shutdowns

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, May 20, 2024, 10:21 PM IST
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India now has the dubious distinction of leading the world in internet shutdowns for the sixth year in a row, making it a classic case of a democracy with faultlines. Nothing can be more detrimental to free speech than the blocking of communication lines, which is what an internet shutdown amounts to. According to a recent study, there were 115 cases of such shutdowns in 2023 in the country, accounting for 43 per cent of global shutdowns which were recorded at 283. Internet shutdowns in India rose by 41 per cent from 201 in 2022 to 283 in 2023. The worst hit was Manipur where internet services were suspended for 212 days from May 3 to December 3, 2023 with a break of three days. Sixty four shutdowns affected more than one district and there was a statewide shutdown in Punjab in March last year. Such suspensions are a direct violation of human rights as gender- related violence and custodial torture cannot be exposed. More often than not it is the authorities’ desire to avoid bad publicity that prompts them to enforce internet suspensions.

When Article 370 was abrogated and Jammu and Kashmir rendered a Union territory, a major casualty was internet services which were restored only after months. The real feelings of the people thus remained unknown to the rest of the country. While the government justified its decision to suspend internet services as necessary to thwart anti-national forces in the sensitive border state the prolonged shutdown coupled with detentions of prominent leaders only fuelled scepticism among neutral observers and anxiety among the people of the erstwhile state.

Internet shutdowns also have a detrimental effect on the economy. According to the study, such suspensions cost India $1.9 billion and a loss of $ 118 million in foreign investment in the first half of 2023 alone. A single day’s shutdown can push up to 379 people into unemployment, the study added. Whatever the justification for such shutdowns, they are antithetical to the very principle of democracy and should be avoided except under extremely dire circumstances.

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