“Freedom of internet access is a fundamental right,” said Supreme Court Justice N.V. Ramana, 150 days after the internet shutdown in Kashmir. After scrapping Section 370 of the Indian Consitution on October 30th, 2019, the Indian Government suspended all internet services in the region.
The Supreme Court said that expressing one’s views through the internet is a part of the Right to Freedom of Expression (FoE) mentioned in Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution. Furthermore, any restriction to this right must be mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution.
The government did this by invoking a certain section of the British-era law of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. According to the Guardian, without any internet, providing medical services in the area has been utterly difficult.
Needless to say, the effect of the Internet shutdown has taken an economic and human toll on the region. Among the confirmed deceased since the internet shutdown is a teenage boy from Kashmir.
The Supreme Court also labeled the repeated use of section 144, which prevents the assembly of more than four-five people, as “abuse of power.”
“Section 144 cannot be used to prevent the legitimate expression of democratic rights,” said the Supreme Court on Kashmir’s internet shutdown.
Kashmir Internet Shutdown: 150 Days Of Agony
In the modern democratic world, Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government was the only one to suspend internet services 154 times between Jan 2016-May 2018. For comparison, war-torn Syria had 8 shutdowns during this period while Iran only suffered from 4 shutdowns. In 2019, India had suffered from a total of 95 instances of internet shutdowns.
As the Supreme court was hearing a number of pleas challenging these restrictions, a foreign envoy was busy visiting Kashmir to assess and monitor the situation. Experts believe the visit is also to prove false the claims from Pakistan that highlight the blatant disregard of human rights in the region.
The internet shutdown not only disrupts the daily activities of the citizens but also burns a hole in the pocket of telecom companies. According to a report, Indian mobile operators lose £270,000 every hour in revenue during an internet shutdown.
According to a new report titled The Global Cost Of Internet Shutdowns made by Top10VPN, India lost over $1.3 billion across the country. India is the third most economically damaged country, in terms of revenue loss due to internet shutdown, after Iraq and Sudan.
Losing such an amount of money should be a big deal for a country that is growing at its slowest pace in the past 42 years. For comparison, the entire education budget of India is just a measly 13 million dollars.
Are Anti-CAA Protests To Blame?
The frequency of recent internet shutdowns increased when the Indian Government passed the CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) on December 2nd, 2019 and later turned it into an act called CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act).
On December 19th, 2019, the Narendra Modi government went ahead and shut down the internet in the National Capital Region of New Delhi.
The government’s reason for the shutdown was to prevent any violence that they feel any misinformation might cause. However, if we look at all the regions where anti-CAA protests took place, we’d find that major instances of violence took place in UP, Karnataka, Gujrat, and Delhi, all of whom have police under the control of Narendra-Modi led BJP government.
States with non-BJP governments saw almost no instances of violence, including Andra Pradesh, Kerela, Rajasthan, and Madhya-Pradesh.
In Uttar-Pradesh, almost 27 people died, all of them Muslims, in alleged police-led violence targeted at the Muslim population.
By The Order Of Supreme Court, Please
After countless deaths, loss of property and civil unrest under the Narendra Modi Government, one might think that the Indian Supreme Court would assign an external agency to review the illegal internet shutdowns and the repeated imposition of section 144 and not just ask the government to review it themselves.
However, the Supreme Court asked the Indian Government to review its blatant abuse of power. What was missing from the Supreme Court’s order to the Indian Government, in my opinion, was a simple “Please.”