Internet clampdowns in India have increased 27 times -- from three in 2012 to 83 in 2020, according to the internet shutdown tracker, maintained by Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a legal services organization based in Delhi. Between 2012 and 2021, 468 incidents of internet shutdowns have taken place in the country.
On January 31, 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered a temporary suspension of internet services in certain areas of the National Capital Region, including Delhi's Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders in light of the ongoing farmers' protests against the three new farm laws.
"In exercise of the power conferred under Sub-rule 1 of Rule 2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) rules 2017, and in the interest of maintaining public safety and averting public emergency, it is necessary and expedient to order, the temporary suspension of internet services in the areas of Singhu, Ghazipur, and Tikri, and their adjoining areas in the NCT of Delhi from 23:00 Hrs on January 31, 2021 to 23:00 Hrs on February 02, 2021," the order read.
The shutdowns were further extended to 17 new districts in Haryana. India has already witnessed seven internet shutdowns in the first month of 2021 with parts of Kashmir's internet being cut off on the very first day of the year.
At 134, India saw the most number of internet shutdowns in 2018, followed by 106 in 2019 and 83 in 2020. Of the 385 internet shutdowns recorded between January 2012 and March 15, 2020, 62% were categorized as "preventive"in nature, wherein restrictions were imposed to prevent a law and order situation and 38% were categorized as "reactive" -- restrictions imposed to contain an ongoing law and order issue, according to SFLC.
While most internet shutdowns lasted for less than 24 hours, 11% have lasted for over three days. Of the 385 reported incidents between 2012 and March 2020, almost 80% were targeted at mobile internet services alone.
In 2020, India was the most economically impacted country, according to data released by Top10VPN, a research organisation focused on internet privacy. Around 8,927 hours of internet blackouts and bandwidth throttling cost the Indian economy close to $3 billion and affected 10.3 million internet users. Around the world, over 27,000 hours of internet shutdowns were recorded, costing the global economy a total of $4.1 billion in 2020, data show
Jammu and Kashmir -- Most Affected Region
Of 467 incidents of internet shutdowns since 2012, more than half was experienced by Jammu and Kashmir. At 69, 2020 saw the highest internet cut offs in J&K-- more than any other state.
After the revocation of Article 370 of the constitution by the Indian government on August 4, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir experienced the longest internet shutdown of 213 days. Landlines, internet and postal services were restricted during the initial period of the communication blockade. Although 2G internet services were restored in the valley on January 25, 2020, social media and news websites remained inaccessible. Previously, the region experienced the second longest communication blackout of 133 days following the death of Burhan Wani in July, 2016.
Jammu and Kashmir saw the latest internet cut off on January 26, 2020. Besides the continual internet suspensions, Jammu and Kashmir also had the slowest average internet download speed in the country. The internet speed provided by operators such as Jio was as low as 1.2 megabits per second (mbps) in the last six months.
The third longest internet shutdown was observed for 100 days in Darjeeling, West Bengal due to the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland.
Internet Shutdowns across nations
Of the 213 incidences of internet shutdowns recorded in the world in 2019, 121 (56%) occurred in India making it the leading country for internet clampdowns, according to a 2019 report by Access Now, an internet advocacy group. At 12, Venezuela recorded the second highest number of internet shutdowns, followed by Yemen at 11 and Iraq at 8.
India's neighbour on the west, Pakistan, recorded five internet shutdowns while Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka saw less than five shutdowns in 2019.