An Internet shutdown is always Government-imposed restriction where Internet Service Providers are ordered by a Government agency to cut-off Internet services.
An Internet shutdown always imposes a blanket ban on Internet access, where access to the Internet as a whole is paralysed, and not a selective ban, where access to particular content/services is disabled leaving access to other content/services unaffected.
Kashmir is called the hub of the internet shutdowns where internet is banned frequently. Due to unrest in the Kashmir Valley, there have been a large number of Internet shutdowns. As per the data shared by Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), Kashmir valley is experiencing the Internet Shutdown since 2012.
In 2012, internet was banned three times. The number started to increase year by year. In 2013, it was banned by five times. In 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Internet was banned by 6, 14, 31, 79 times respectively.
However, in 2018, Internet shutdown increased to a great extent and the number of shutdowns reached 133. There are many instances where Telecom companies were directed by the government to throttle mobile Internet speed from 4G to 2G.
The scope of these restrictions has a significantly disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir, undermining the government’s stated aim of preventing dissemination of information that could lead to violence.
While the rest of the states have developed tremendously in the last couple of years, from 2G to 3G to 4G high-speed internet, people of Kashmir Valley are deprived of even basic internet facilities.
The internet in Kashmir works according to the will and whims of government. It is strange that the government authorities at times allow internet access in one area and block it in other areas. It has also been observed that sometimes Internet is banned in one district and other districts are allowed to have internet access.
The internet becomes the first casualty whenever the situation in the Valley turns from restive to volatile. The mobile internet ban has become the most unpredictable thing in Kashmir.
During the uprising that followed the killing of BurhanWani on July 8 2016, mobile internet was suspended in Kashmir for straight 133 days. Later mobile internet services were restored on post-paid numbers in mid-November, while on pre-paid it returned on January 30, 2017.
In 2016, RTI was filed by the Srinagar-based Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) to know who ordered the clampdown on Internet Service in Valley.
In response, public information officer of the divisional commissioner’s office, wrote that no such order was issued by this office regarding shut down.
The Government and police sources in Kashmir maintain that mobile internet restrictions help check the mobilisation of protesters and prevent the spread of rumors.
The authorities in Valley on April 17, 2017 banned 22 social media sites and applications, including Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter for a month in an attempt to curb the street protests in the Valley.
The social media ban enforced to quell rumours and violent protests became more of a joke with almost everyone turning to the Virtual Private Network (VPN) technique to access blocked sites.
The popularity of these tactics compelled the government to block access to Android Play store among other services for some time in a bid to prevent citizens from getting access to these services.
South Kashmir is the worst-hit area of Internet Shutdown. Here internet is banned more frequently and more than other parts of the valley.
Snapping of internet in south Kashmir districts has paralysed life in the district, while thousands of students are suffering especially due to snapped internet.
Students and aspirants of different competitive examinations who apply for different government jobs are subjected to face hardships. They became the ultimate sufferers in Kashmir during the times when authorities impose curbs on the internet.
The students are seen requesting the authorities to restore the facility. But most of the time when the service is restored, the internet speed is throttled to 2G to prevent uploading of content on social media websites.
Considering the internet shutdowns in Valley from past seven years, it is clear that Social Media websites are the main reason behind the Internet Shutdowns.
As per the Government officials, the social media platforms are being misused by the youth to fuel unrest and it becomes necessary to ban the facility for public safety because social media were being "misused by anti-national and anti-social elements."
There should be an alternative measure rather than banning the whole internet services. Therefore, it is high time that government rethinks, and reconsiders its unsustainable policy of recurrent internet ban and let us breathe in knowledge based interconnected world.
Author is a Research Scholar, School of Education, Central University of Gujarat