Ever since the world acquired the status of a global village, international norms have changed, as have people’s needs.
The communications industry has undoubtedly seen the most change. In today’s world, an average human is far more aware than someone who lived a couple of decades ago. Thanks to the internet, information from one part of the world travels to another within no time. The Internet’s power is unimaginable; it can stir up an entire population. And, those at the helm of affairs fear it the most. Therefore, there have been many instances where governments throughout the world have resorted to internet blackouts to control their populations. And the so-called largest democracy in the world, India, falls in this category.
According to a report prepared by Surfshark, a virtual private network (VPN) company located in Lithuania, Indian-held Kashmir was one of the regions that experienced the most internet shutdowns in 2022. In its report on internet censorship, the company found that a fifth of all web blackouts took place in the occupied valley.
It further said 32 countries had seen 112 restrictions, particularly at a time of protest and unrest. Surfshark placed India-held Kashmir alongside Russia which had imposed restrictions on social media in the wake of its attack on Ukraine. Another country where blackouts were reported was Iran, which had cut off the internet during protests in September.
Talking to Voice of America, Surfshark spokesperson Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske said the internet was shut down in Indian-occupied Kashmir for 456 hours in 2022. Internet blackouts have been regularly implemented in Indian-occupied Kashmir since 2019 when New Delhi revoked the region’s special autonomous status.
According to the Indian authorities, the step was taken to prevent the spread of “misinformation” and “maintain public order.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) too expressed its concerns and said governments were increasingly resorting to shutdowns in times of crisis on the pretext of public safety and preventing the spread of misinformation.
The HRW called India the “global leader” in shutdowns as it blocked access to the internet in Kashmir for months in 2019. In 2020, a report released by Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure company, revealed a worldwide prevalence of internet suspensions. The firm’s head of data, David Belson, had said such shutdowns are used to stifle information. The report listed ‘intentional shutdowns’ and disruptions in Bangladesh, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Sudan and Ukraine.
John Graham-Cumming, Cloudflare’s chief technical officer, insists that governments block internet access because “they see shutting down the flow of information as a vital thing to do.” Internet blackouts are more of a punishment than a preventive measure. When governments restrict the flow of information, they not only keep their people in the dark but also damage many other sectors that rely on international communication. The economy suffers the most, as do people who rely on the internet to make a living, not to forget students.
In the case of Kashmiris, India’s tactics are to isolate them, and cut them off from their community and also from the rest of the world.