INTERNET SHUTDOWN IN JAMMU AND KASHMIR
The internet and its users have changed so much over the years that it has now become an integral part of our everyday lives; our interests and aspirations are formed by our dependence on it. Since it makes our lives easier and simpler, the internet has had such an influence on people. The internet provides us with a wealth of information, as well as opportunities for social and economic growth. It's a treasure trove of knowledge and information that helps to shape our way of life and business. It opens in such a way that there are various opportunities for imagination and innovation. The internet assists students in acquiring information from anywhere in the world, it assists businesses in running by relying on its availability, and it also provides a forum for various researchers as well as fast and simple communication around the world. Over the years, the internet has opened up a myriad of possibilities and resources for Indians, and its widespread use has benefited people in a number of ways. In reality, after China, India has the second-highest number of internet users and is moving toward a digital India, but India still faces challenges. The world's largest number of internet outages.
The shutdown of the internet is always viewed as a government-imposed restriction on data services. The government instructs Internet Service Providers to turn off internet service in a specific area, district, or state. It is not a selective ban that restricts access to a few websites, but rather a blanket ban that affects all internet services.
In August 2019, the Modi administration revoked the region's special status, effectively nullifying Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had granted Jammu and Kashmir special autonomy. The government retaliated rapidly and harshly: internet and cellular networks were cut off; tens of thousands of Indian troops were deployed; and Indian authorities used a controversial detention law to bring regional political leaders under house arrest. Millions of people were cut off from digital contact, both within their area and with the rest of the world. Government officials had previously shut down the internet in Jammu and Kashmir, but this was clearly different. Access to internet, which is declared as a basic human right by the United Nations was suspended in Jammu and Kashmir more than 50 times, according to some reports. Since August 5, 2019, there was an information blackout, families were unable to connect, people were unable to access medical care, and the local economy was disrupted. However, during times of unlawful assembly or anticipated disorder, Indian law allows the government to restrict internet access. The legislation also stipulates that an internet outage cannot be called a “abuse of power.”
The people in power very conveniently said that, “If a communication shutdown helps save lives, then where is the harm? Not a single human life has been lost in these many days.” However, Extensive research and tracking of internet shutdowns in India and around the world has revealed that communication restrictions cause more harm than good. PM Narendra Modi used Twitter to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh just days after Article 370 was effectively revoked. However, no one in the Valley is likely to have seen his tweets because Internet access has been suspended in the area since August 1 to "maintain law and order." As Sundar Krishnan, executive director of internet advocacy group SFLC.in, told The Guardian back in January, “According to law, an internet shutdown can only be imposed is if there’s a public safety precaution or a public emergency, but unfortunately these two words are not defined in any legislation of India.” Three weeks after the repeal of Article 370, the communication blockade persists. PM Narendra Modi used Twitter to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh just days after Article 370 was effectively revoked. However, no one in the Valley is likely to have seen his tweets because Internet access has been suspended in the area since August 1 to "maintain law and order." Moreover, the communication blockade was still in place weeks after Article 370 was repealed.
The only possible explanation of such repressive step that in India, viral misinformation spread through apps like WhatsApp, which Indian authorities have no control over and it has often times resulted in mob violence. To put it simply, the theory that the government adopted was that shutting off the internet would solve the problem. Even if ostensibly for good reasons (which is an often questionable claim), shutting down internet access deprives people of critical communication services, as well as government and corporate services such as banking. It also makes it more difficult for domestic media and the international community to report on and raise awareness about incidents in those areas, and it can also lead to, rather than minimise, violence in those areas. Hence, it is often times considered to be tyrannical.
To peoples’ rescue, the Supreme Court ruled in January that access to the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, and ordered the administration of Jammu and Kashmir to review all orders imposing restrictions in the Union Territory within a week. The freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys Constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) respectively, ruled the three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana. “The restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality,” the court said.
The Supreme Court's decision came in response to a slew of petitions challenging the restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir following the Centre's abrogation of the state's autonomy. The Supreme Court may have ruled indefinite internet shutdown illegal months ago, but it only did so to compel a Review Committee to investigate the Kashmir situation, not to order the Modi government to end it immediately. It had the option of taking aggressive action to stop the shutdown, but it chose to uphold a principle over procedural compliance.
India, like the United States, is the world's most populous democracy, and it has the potential to be a global pioneer in fostering democratic technology norms. India's position as an emerging market economy, its increasingly increasing technology sector, it’s emphasis on artificial intelligence growth, its wide domestic market, and the government-promoted notion of advancing a Global South model of data governance are all factors that must be considered. Having said that, it is crucial not to become too techno-centric in examining this phenomenon and to neglect political considerations in the process. Moreover, India has been labelled the “internet shutdown capital of the world” for ordering the most number of internet shutdowns since 2015, according to a 2020 report by New York-based digital rights organisation Access Now.
Not only this but these internet outages are impacting the lives of everyone in the country in one way or another. Before the pandemic made everyone’s live at hault, some Kashmiris who could afford it flew to other cities to connect with loved ones, others couldn’t. The artisans and handicraft artists of Kashmir, who weave the world-famous Pashmina, are paying a high price as a result of the internet outages. 60,000 people to 70,000 of them have lost their jobs. Students in the field have a wide range of interests. They have been unable to continue their education because of their disabilities. The valley's administration must comprehend their position. They should disable all social media sites where they are involved. I agree that dispute videos and images should be posted so that internet access can be provided. The area has been restored. How long will the authorities keep these programmes under wraps? In the future, they must rebuild the facility. It would be preferable to reopen the facility as soon as possible. It is past time for the government to reconsider and rethink its counterproductive policy of recurrent internet bans, enabling us to breathe in this knowledge-based age.
The number of Internet shutdowns in India has risen significantly in recent years. In 2017, the number of shutdowns rose from three in 2012 to 70. From a low of 9 hours in 2012, the number of shutdowns increased to 8141 hours in 2017. Various decisions were taken based on carefully collected data. . Jammu & Kashmir has, as is clear, shown a disproportionate amount of shutdowns.
Determining whether internet shutdowns are justified is challenging. Although I accept that Internet shutdowns are an incredibly intrusive type of censorship, there are reasons to justify such behaviour. It is not to be agreed or presumed in any way, but we suggest that, in view of the rising tide of incitement to violence on social media sites, a more nuanced and open debate about why certain governments are doing so is required taking the apparently drastic acts they are, and how or when they can be restricted justifiable. When it comes to limiting state justifications for shutting down the Internet on the grounds that it presents a threat to civil security, states' justifications should be tested in light of the principles of fairness, truth, and proportionality. But unfortunately, India has been called the world's "undisputed champion" of internet blackouts, considering India's human rights obligations. The regular internet shutdowns in Kashmir have been described as "a profound digital apartheid" in a recent study titled "Kashmir's Internet Siege."
The Jammu and Kashmir government has continued to restrict internet access by restricting internet speeds to 2G, despite receiving criticism from various international bodies and a Supreme Court order to revisit the order on internet shutdowns. The deliberate slowing of the internet is known as "bandwidth throttling." Some of the effects of internet blockage is that doctors are unable to obtain treatment specifics and potentially life-saving information, and students are finding it increasingly difficult to attend classes online and apply for higher education. Furthermore, a drop in internet speed has a direct economic effect. However, the Anuradha Bhaisn’s judgement was a step towards the closure. But more needs to be done. Throttling makes the internet "effectively unusable," and it's also the government's way of escaping responsibility and liability. The administration must recognise that throttled internet access is not a replacement for unrestricted internet access, and that the government should not be able to shirk its duty by using it. It's past time for the world's largest democracy to understand the effect of internet shutdowns on people's lives and prioritise human rights.
By ARUSHI SHARMA
VIPS (5th YEAR)