The government of India takes a drastic decision. A groundswell of protest erupts and mobs go on a rampage. Shortly, a curfew is imposed. People die as the police open fire. Inevitably, an internet shutdown is announced.
No, this isn’t only about Kashmir, India’s strife-hit Himalayan state. At least not anymore.
On Dec. 11, India’s northeastern state of Assam witnessed its second internet shutdown of the year. “Owning to protests about the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), there have been widespread protests taking place in Assam,” the Software Freedom Law Centre’s (SFLC) internetshutdowns.in revealed. “Internet has been suspended in the districts from 7pm on 11th December to 7pm on 12th December to curb violence and spread of protests in the state.”
SFLC is a New Delhi–based not-for-profit legal services organisation tracking such instances of shutdowns.
The CAB seeks to make undocumented migrants—Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians—from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. The decision to leave Muslims off this list has sparked protests in many parts of India.
However, in the northeast, where these protests have been most violent, they have a different texture and root cause. People there are simply against any more refugees, irrespective of their religious or linguistic identity, being accommodated in their states and regions.
Residents of Assam, where many Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar settle, fear that foreigners will burden their resources and distort their culture. After the bill passed in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) on Dec. 9 and in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) three days later, the protests exploded.
However, many worry that the internet shutdown is not a short-term fix. Already, the ban has continued longer than it was meant to.
According to Twitter, mobile internet remained off even after the prescribed 7pm. Shamim Zakaria, foreign editor at Chinese publication Global Times, tweeted about it around 10.20pm on Dec. 12:
Just spoke to my family in Guwahati. #assamprotests reeling under tension as 3 killed in police firing. Emotions running high. Broadband active; mobile internet remains suspended. Food shortage kicking in. Mom said she bought potatoes at Rs50/kg,instead of usual Rs10#CABBill2019
— Shamim Zakaria (@shamimzakaria) December 12, 2019
At 10.30pm on Dec. 12, Al Jazeera journalist Makepeace Sitlhou said broadband will be cut for another couple of days.
Broadband will be shut for the next 48 hours after the deployment of military to control the situation
— Makepeace Sitlhou (@makesyoucakes) December 12, 2019
Prime minister Narendra Modi, ironically, took to the internet to reassure the very people who didn’t have access to the internet—a basic human right according to the United Nations.
I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB.
I want to assure them- no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 12, 2019
Internet shutdown central
This shutdown comes as little surprise. After all, India is the internet shutdown capital of the world.
This is the first major internet ban in Assam after three of the state’s districts suffered such a shutdown on May 10 following a communal clash.
On its part, the government says it uses internet blackouts to maintain law and order (even though there is little evidence it works). For instance, ahead of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid verdict, the internet was cut off in several parts of the country.
What’s interesting, though, is that India’s seen far fewer shut-downs this year than last year.
This is my last tweet before internet shuts down in Assam. My land is BURNING , seeing worst days of my life. Rest of the country do support us in our battle. This is FIGHT FOR THE IDENTITY OF ASSAM. #indiarejectscab #CABProtest #AssamRejectsCAB #NoToCAB #CAB2019 pic.twitter.com/mQ0WWKs2qf
— Gangotri Neog (@GangotriNeog) December 11, 2019
The ripple effect, too, is taking hold. Reports of curbs in other northeastern states like Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh are trickling in. A curfew has been imposed in Meghalaya’s capital, Shillong. Mobile internet and text-messaging have been banned n that state for two days.
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