On one hand the government promotes Digital India, on the other, it curbs access to the net as it deems fit.
When the Internet boom happened about two decades ago and the world thought of moving forward together, no one had dreamt that governments across the world will graduate into using it as a potent tool to cripple the voice of the people one directive at a time. In the 21st century where life revolves around the internet of things, Delhi got a taste of such a shutdown on the foggy morning of December 19, four months after Kashmir’s access was revoked.
While the internet shutdown was fairly a new experience for Delhites, which lasted for less than a day in some parts of the city, the Indian government has used it effectively in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam to curb the expression, first against the abrogation of Article 370 and now against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, that has triggered a nationwide movement.
The hypocrisy of the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be judged from the fact that while it talks about digitally empowering the society and creating a knowledge economy through its flagship Digital India on one hand, it has been regularly titillating with shutting down the internet, closing that “digital window of empowerment” as it deems fit. The government has curtailed internet access in the newly formed union territory of Jammu and Kashmir since August 4.
In a September 2018 paper titled, “The Legal Disconnect: An Analysis Of India’s Internet Shutdown Laws” Google public policy fellow Nakul Nayak wrote, “between mid-2015 to mid-2016, over 19 countries suspended internet access. That number increased to more than 30 in 2017. Notable international examples include the Egyptian government cutting internet services in its entire country for over four days, with China doing the same in its Xinjiang province for over 10 months. However, it is India that has the dubious distinction of witnessing the most number of shutdowns in the world.” In 2019 there have been 91 instances of such shutdowns in the country.
While the government might be of an opinion that the internet consists of basic social media platforms to express voice, the net in 2019 is much more diverse and extensively controls our day to day existence. From online payments to booking tickets to ordering medicines, food, filing police complaints, it can do anything and at any time. However, the government with a push of a button creates a mental paralysis triggering anxiety among many as the networks start fading away.
While the internet shutdowns have proved effective, it has not been as successful as the masters thought it to be. The crowd on the streets with placards in their hands and slogans of a secular India on their lips is an example. Despite the shutdown, people of Kashmir have come together, Delhi showed the government how the shutdown barely affected their lives and Assam is still furious over the developments.
The government needs to understand that the continuous shutdown is increasing their problems instead of mitigating them and that the internet can do much more than what it is doing in a shutdown mode, maybe try it out by resuming it in Kashmir for a change.