Note to Reader: This article is part two of a two-article series. The first article, “Whose Problem is Kashmir: The Phantom Menace” can be found here.

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Internet Shutdowns – A Weapon for Suppression:

A 2020 report by New York-based digital rights organisation Access Now, labelled India as the “internet shutdown capital of the world” for ordering the most number of internet shutdowns since 2015. The site notes that in India observed 14, 31, 79, 134, 106, 129 and 25 (2021, till now) internet shutdowns in the country since 2015, with the most (cumulatively) shutdowns being in the state of Jammu and Kashmir – 311. India shattered world records with its shutdown of J&K internet services in 2019, when this happened:

August 4, 2019: All internet services snapped.
August 18, 2019: Use of landlines allowed.
October 14, 2019: Postpaid mobile services restored.
January 15, 2020: Broadband services for essential purposes were restored.
January 24, 2020: 2G internet access to whitelisted sites was allowed.
April 9, 2020: SC asks Centre, J&K to reply on plea for restoration of 4G services amid nationwide Covid lockdown
August 16, 2020: Ahead of the UT district polls, high-speed internet data on postpaid mobile phones was restored in Ganderbal in Kashmir and Udhampur in Jammu.
February 5, 2021: Administration says 4G internet to be restored in entire UT.

A continuous shutdown from August 4, 2019, to February 6, 2021, lasting a record 552 days, drew media attention from all over the world – with the United Nations warning that the blanket shutdown “was a collective punishment that must be reversed”. In January 2020, even the Supreme Court of India deemed an indefinite shutdown of the internet in the state “unwarranted” and said it “demonstrated abuse of power” by our Supreme Leader’s government.

What? That’s not Legal? Let’s make it so! – The GoI Way:

The legality of internet shutdowns in Kashmir has always remained shrouded in secrecy – that is, until January this year. The Supreme Court pronounced its verdict in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, where it endorsed the “principle of proportionality” for internet shutdowns. While mentioning procedural safeguards to the Telecom Suspension Rules, the judgement mandated all suspension orders with specified timeframes and review committees to be made publicly available; GoI has gone to extreme lengths to prevent scrutiny and keep the public eye away from such orders, with sometimes even not mentioning timeframes in pleas under the Right to Information Act. Anyway, this judgement was slammed for its lofty rhetoric and no substantive action. It did not declare access to internet as a fundamental right, nor did it pass any orders to restore internet in J&K.

The primary arrow in the government’s quiver in these situations has been Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This was routinely used to ban public meetings and congregations, including authorising internet shutdowns – till the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules of 2017 were enacted. However, old habits are not that easy to let go of. Continued usage of Section 144 to issue internet blockade orders has drawn criticism from many quarters. The Indian Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act govern laws and offer checks and balances concerning internet shutdowns. However, the Rules of 2017 gave the executive branch virtually unlimited powers to bypass the legal mechanisms for internet blocking – the ones laid down under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

Rajat Kathuria, director of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), led a 2018 ICRIER report on the economic impact of internet shutdowns. The report found that between 2012 and 2017, the economic cost of internet shutdowns in India was $3.04 billion, with the cost to the J&K economy alone being worth over INR 4,000 crore.

Jan Rydzak is currently a research analyst at the US-based organisation Ranking Digital Rights. In a 2019 working paper titled “Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India”, she said: “State authorities invariably claim that these deliberate blackouts, which occur more frequently in India than in any other country in the world, are useful in pacifying or preventing protest. However, empirical evidence is never presented.”

The Pocketbook of Dictatorial Tactics – BJP Version:

Our current regime has some tactics common in its methods of handling opposition and protests. Tactics used and experimented on in Kashmir are then used in other parts of the country – and the three most prominent ones they have are – the indiscriminate use of Section 144, the unhinged use of internet shutdowns, and the manipulating the election machinery in the concerned state (or obliterating it, as in the case of Kashmir).

Section 144: This law has been described as the one rule that fits all. The Supreme Court of India has already stated that the GoI’s repeated use of Section 144 in Kashmir amounts to an abuse of power. Repeated use of Section 144 has also been observed in the latest farmers’ protest against the three new agricultural laws – with their use in GhazipurSaharanpurLucknow, and most recently Chandigarh. It has also been used repeatedly in educational institutes like JNUJamia Milia Islamia, and protest sites like Shaheen Bagh.

Internet Shutdowns: This is a more recent trick the Supreme Leader’s appeasers have learnt. The farmers’ protest observed an internet shutdown in the areas surrounding the capital, which was deemed unconstitutional by many Human Rights Organisations. Access Now reports that India has shut down internet services more than any other nation in 2020, with some sources claiming it to be over 70% of the world’s total.

Reinstating Election Rules: The BJP has been the source of the biggest political dramas since 2014. Over 44% of the MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies) who switched their parties were later found in the BJP. Where BJP wins, it wins. Where it loses – it makes sure the winner loses its numbers – by hook or by crook. It has become the largest political recipient of corporate donations and can afford to do all of it. Where it suits the “brown pants”, they conduct elections in one phase (Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu). Where regional riots can influence the outcomes – the states’ Hindus suddenly are in immediate danger (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi). As for Kashmir, there is no need for any regional self-governance since The Will of The Supreme Leader shall be implemented directly, by bringing it under the Central Government.

Our Supreme Leader promised that Kashmir will be just like India, and he has made sure everyone repeats this same line. However, the acts of our Supreme Leader have presented before us a very problematic question: 

Will Kashmir finally be like the rest of India, or will the rest of India be made into another Kashmir?

Suggested Readings:

  • Wall Street Journal – A New Tack in Kashmir (2008)
  • Shubh Mathur – The Human Toll of the Kashmir Conflict (Google Books)
  • Reconciliation and Truth in Kashmir: A Case Study, Iqbal et al. 2014, DOI: 10.1177/0306396814542917
  • C. Dasgupta – War and Diplomacy in Kashmir: 1947-48 (JSTOR)
  • Peter Lyon – Conflict Between India and Pakistan: An Encyclopedia (Google Books)
  • Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War – MacDonald, Myra (2017) (Oxford University Press)
  • Peace Time: Cease-Fire Agreements and the Durability of Peace – Fortna, Virginia (2004) (Princeton University Press)
  • DN Panigrahi – Jammu and Kashmir, the Cold War and the West (2012) (Google Books)
  • GW Choudhary – Pakistan’s Relations with India, 1947-1966 (1968) (Archive)

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