India saw a total of 109 internet shutdowns in 2020, highest in the world. Yemen followed with only six. Although the Indian government claimed that these shutdowns occurred to mitigate social unrest due to misinformation spread by online media, such claims were provided with little to no evidence.
Kris Ruijgrok, Dutch political analyst, in his study found that internet shut downs were more frequent in the North and Northeastern states. Southern states in the country, where the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) presence is seldom felt, hardly reported such shut downs. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir was the worst with as many as 230 internet shutdowns. The study found that India used internet shutdowns as a first, instead of a last, resort when challenged with social or communal unrest.
The probability of internet shutdowns in states ruled by the BJP was found to be 250 percent higher than non-BJP ruled states. This trend indicates a rise in the future. The study found that the chances of an internet shutdown in BJP-ruled states is three percent during any given month. It is only 0.8 percent in non-BJP states in contrast.
Even after the exclusion of Jammu and Kashmir’s case, the probability in BJP-ruled districts still knocks as high as 1.7 percent as opposed to 0.4 percent for non-BJP districts.
Ruijgrok, an Information Controls Fellow with the Open Technology Fund, a US-based nonprofit, conducted this study to ‘aim to support global internet freedom technologies’. After putting the data under a political lens, the study mentioned that these shutdowns are more susceptible to political manipulation. On Jammu and Kashmir, the study concludes that ‘the longer shutdowns in the region also serve as a collective punishment for the Kashmiris who strive for greater political recognition’.
Outside Jammu and Kashmir, internet shutdowns were seldom issued during or before elections. The study conjectured that this was the case because officeholders feared punishment at the ballot box for issuing a shutdown.
The highest number of districts facing an internet shutdown occurred in December, 2019 across 76 districts when protests took place against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. Ruijgrok, through his study, came to the conclusion that the issuance of an internet shutdown can be viewed as a politically-instigated problem—than a social media one as claimed by government officials.