343 Days of Internet Shutdown in Kashmir – How Proportionate is it?

Today, I was browsing through Wikipedia. I do that a lot these days – given all the negative news around, I want to find stories about positive developments, recent discoveries, or the de-escalation of conflicts, and Wikipedia’s snowballing through the hyperlinks gets a reader to interesting corners of the internet.

What I’m sharing now is unfortunately not positive news. Back in August 2019, when India revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and thereby revoked Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, I wrote an article on this same blog about the dehumanization and degradation that India’s policies constitute. For example, back then, India completely shut down Kashmir’s internet, which led not only to people not being able to reach their loved ones amidst deadly violence, but also to doctors not being to order medicine into the valley and mental health deteriorating significantly. And, which was a concluding argument in my blogpost of last year, wherever you treat people like sh*t, they will retaliate and pick up arms themselves (excuse my language – the rest of this article will be much more sophisticated).

So today, I was hoping to read about some positive developments – that internet was restored, for example, as now people are in COVID-19 lockdown and deserve at least a little consolation. However, Wikipedia showed me this:

Capture

343 days of lockdown in Kashmir. Yes, admittedly, not all internet is shut down. A select few websites are accessible, and 2G and pre-paid networks are back. But to revive the spirit of my last article, let’s put this back into context and ask the big question: “Is this genuinely the best way to keep ‘peace’ in Kashmir valley?”

I’m going to tell you that it isn’t, and explain why.

Internet disruptions have a direct impact on human rights. This has been acknowledged by the Special Rapporteur’s June 2017 Report to the Human Rights Council, which states that the users affected from an Internet shutdown are cut off from emergency services and health information, mobile banking and e-commerce, transportation, school classes, voting and election monitoring, reporting on major crises and events, and human rights investigations. In addition, a resolution was passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council on 1 July 2016, condemning network disruptions and measures resorted by states to curb online access and/or dissemination of information. The resolution further affirmed that rights in the online sphere, especially the right to freedom of expression requires the same standard of protection as in the offline world.[1] An Internet shutdown is more than just a disconnection from WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter – when a shutdown is ordered in a particular region, searching online for contact numbers of emergency services is treated at par with forwarding incendiary, hate-filled messages aimed at creating public disorder.[2] The Internet is also an indispensable utility service for health care industry. Most of patient information repositories, documentations and records are maintained on online servers. At the time of an Internet shutdown, it becomes impossible to work on these servers. Additionally, the shipping and payment of life saving drugs and surgical instruments that are shipped from across the world must be temporarily halted.[3] Blanket shutdowns of the internet therefore are in clear violation of the right to life, as they risk an arbitrary deprivation of life (aka, for non-lawyers, preventable death).

This internet shutdown is not the first one of its kind in Kashmir. Internet shutdowns have occurred repeatedly in the past two decades (although never as long as this time), ever since connectivity reached the valley. Each time, internet shutdowns were invoked with reference to curbing terrorism and upholding public safety; references are made to the amount of misinformation and rumours circulating on social media, as well as the idea that protestors and rioters alike organize via social media.[4] Oddly enough, however, terrorism in Kashmir spread like a wildfire far before the internet became a means of communication. In fact, the peak of terrorism in Kashmir was before internet connectivity, namely in the 1990s. The link between terrorism and internet is thus to be questioned in general. But let us look at more concrete analyses by people with more academic credentials than me.

Jan Rydzak, Global Digital Policy Incubator, Stanford University, found, specifically based on statistics and research from and in India that internet shutdowns do not serve the purpose that they are associated with. He found that shutdowns are found to be much more strongly associated with increases in violent collective action than with non-violent mobilization.[5] This is because information blackouts compel participants in collective action in India to substitute non-violent tactics for violent ones that are less reliant on effective communication and coordination.[6] Rydzak lays out his “theory of disconnective action”, which he uses to explain that incidences of protest will increase immediately following a blackout, and begin to decline only once the blackout turns into a digital siege, or sustained shutdown. [7] However, digital sieges are in and of themselves violations of human rights, as they lead to citizens not having access to basic services, as laid out above.

In regards specifically to unorganized violence (or loosely coordinated collective action), Rydzak found that there was no statistically significant relationship between such riots and internet blackouts.[8] Neither did violence increase, nor did it decrease over most cases he investigated. He therefore concluded that social media and digital platforms are not critical to collective action, as mass mobilization can occur even in their absence.[9]

Kashmir’s continued internet shutdown is a form of violence. To reiterate what I wrote on this blog last year:

“The Indian government has signalled time and time again that it cannot keep control over Kashmir through any other means but through violence. […] By deploying military as the default, the government signals that it is either too impatient to find a better strategy, or that it is too unwilling to resort to less violent strategies.”

It makes me feel sick to the stomach that my quote remains absolutely relevant almost a year later.

 

 

 

 

[1] SLFC, Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India, New Delhi, 2018, available at: https://sflc.in/sites/default/files/reports/Living%20in%20Digital%20Darkness%20-%20A%20Handbook%20on%20Internet%20Shutdowns%20in%20India%2c%20May%202018%20-%20by%20SFLCin.pdf, 66

[2] Nakul Nayak, “The Legal Disconnect: An Analysis of India’s Internet Shutdown Laws,” (2018)

[3] SLFC, Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India, New Delhi, 2018, available at: https://sflc.in/sites/default/files/reports/Living%20in%20Digital%20Darkness%20-%20A%20Handbook%20on%20Internet%20Shutdowns%20in%20India%2c%20May%202018%20-%20by%20SFLCin.pdf, 68

[4] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/at-geneva-meet-india-mounts-its-defence-on-kashmir-move-full-statement-here/story-j7GBb0EhXjE0VgffxFawMM.html

[5] Jan Rydzak, “Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India” available at SSRN 3330413 (2019): 1

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 17

[8] Ibid., 39

[9] Ibid., 44

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2 thoughts on “343 Days of Internet Shutdown in Kashmir – How Proportionate is it?

  1. This is really well written, and really captures the spirit of the issue. You are pretty good at bringing together diverse points of view and connecting common sense to good research. I’m bookmarking the Rydzak article for further reading. And your quote, while likely to get you killed, is _earth shakingly well written_.

    On Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 4:07 PM An (Un?)Educated Guess wrote:

    > alenakahle posted: “Today, I was browsing through Wikipedia. I do that a > lot these days – given all the negative news around, I want to find stories > about positive developments, recent discoveries, or the de-escalation of > conflicts, and Wikipedia’s snowballing through the hy” >

    Liked by 1 person

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