Internet shut down 180 times in J&K over past 8 years

Internet<b> </b>communication<b> </b>channels are employed as methods of coordination, but removing them can turn a predictable situation into one that is highly volatile, violent, and chaotic, suggests study<b></b>

Security forces in Anantnag district, Kashmir (IANS Photo)
Security forces in Anantnag district, Kashmir (IANS Photo)

Majid Maqbool

Over the past eight years, from 2012 to 2019, there have been a total of 180 internet shutdowns imposed by the government authorities in Jammu and Kashmir, including 55 internet shutdowns till now this year itself, according to the website which tracks incidents of internet shutdowns across the country.

The internet was suspended a total of 65 times last year and 32 times in 2017. Earlier in 2016, in the wake of widespread protests following the killing of militants’ commander Burhan Wani on July 8, the internet was subsequently banned for the longest period of six months. Mobile internet services were suspended for 133 days during this period, according to the website.

In Jammu and Kashmir, both mobile and broadband internet was suspended on the night of August 4, ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories by the ruling BJP government on the floor of the Parliament on August 5. For more than two months now, both mobile and broadband internet has remained suspended in the Valley.

Before the latest shutdown on August 4, the internet was shut down in the Shopian district of south Kashmir on July 27 following search operations after two militants were killed in an encounter with the paramilitary forces. Before July, the internet was also shut down in Anantnag district as forces launched a search operation to look for militants who had killed a security officer attached to PDP leader Sajad Mufti.

According to a recent study titled “Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India” by Jan Rydzak of Global Digital Policy Incubator, Stanford University, in 2018 alone there were a total of 134 network shutdowns in India. In 2016-17, more than 100 internet shutdowns were recorded in the country. A majority of the internet blackouts were enforced in Kashmir region. J&K accounted for about 47% of the total internet shutdowns, according to the study.

The study found that a majority of internet shutdowns in India happened in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana besides Jammu and Kashmir.

“Of 36 states and union territories, these four regions account for more than 75% of all recorded shutdown events in India (2012-17), while Jammu and Kashmir alone comprised about 47%,” states the study.

“Social media and digital platforms are not critical to collective action, as mass mobilization can occur even in their absence,” the study points out.

“However, these channels are readily employed as methods of coordination, and removing them can turn a predictable situation into one that is highly volatile, violent, and chaotic,” the study states in its conclusion, further adding that the network shutdowns in India are “clearly not uniformly effective, but remain prohibitively costly when maintained.”

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