Instances of Internet shutdowns in India, i.e. state imposed blanket bans on access to internet
services, either mobile or fixed line, are increasing at a worrisome pace. India has come to be known as
the Internet shutdowns capital of the world.
Internet is a key enabler of many fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression.
Along with being a medium for communication, it has also been instrumental in flourishing the economy,
expanding education, emergency services and dispersal of e-governance initiatives. Family life is now
dependent on the availability of digital communications throughout Indian society, as are all the
aspects of human relations in business processes, within and between firms.
As a part of this project, we track incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in at attempt to
draw attention to the troubling trend of disconnecting access to Internet services, for reasons ranging
from curbing unrest to preventing cheating in an examination. As part of the project we also document
the impact of shutdowns by talking to citizens and understanding the impact that has been caused by net
With this wesbiye, we aim to stand strong with the message that the information superhighway that is
the Internet is essential for the holistic socio-economic and cultural development of the country.
Why Should I Care
Digital India is now a reality.
Demonetisation has reminded us of the State's power over essential facilities in the economy and
society, while the push towards "universal payments" and cashless India demonstrates all the more
that the availability of the mobile Internet is now absolutely necessary for the flow of the
An Internet shutdown is more than just a disconnection from Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter;
it means limiting opportunities for artists who showcase their talent through YouTube or SoundCloud,
entrepreneurs who have leveraged the web that lets them amplify an idea without burning a hole in
their pocket, or restricting avenues for learning that are provided by platforms like Coursera or
edX. During an Internet shutdown, students are unable to appear for various examinations; mitigation
agencies, journalists and families are unable to establish contact in crisis hit zones, and
dispersal of benefits through various e-governance schemes is hindered.
Impact on Business & Industry.
A report by the Brookings Institute, which aimed to quantify the losses suffered by various
countries due to such Internet shutdowns, adjudged India to have topped the list by incurring losses
to the tune of US $968 million in the year 2016 itself. With businesses adapting to the online
business model, disruption of Internet services for even 24 hours brings their businesses to a halt
due to the breakdown of communication channels with their potential customers, payment gateway
operators, delivery personnel and other such intermediary parties involved.
Another report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, which
quantitatively assessed the economic impact of Internet Shutdowns across India, projects an economic
loss of approximately US $3.04 billion due to Shutdowns in the country during the period of
Dipak Birolia, cotton bales trader in Adilabad town in state of Telangana expressed his concerns
about how the long term Internet Shutdown affected his export business.
We faced a lot of problems when there was no Internet in our region for more than a month. We have
an export business that requires the filing of various bills etc. Since there was no Internet, we
couldn’t generate E-way bills for transportation of goods. We used to go 40 km every day to
Maharashtra in order to access the Internet and complete our work. This was only once, but after
that, we haven’t faced any problem.
- Dipak Birolia, cotton bales trader in Adilabad town.
Impact on Human Rights.
In many countries across the world, Internet shutdowns have been used as a tool to constrict the
functioning of the democratic process by restricting internet access at strategic times, like during
an election as was the case in Ghana, or during a public mobilization as was witnessed in Egypt. The
United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 1st July, 2016, condemning network
disruptions and measures resorted by states to curb online access and/or dissemination of
information. This resolution 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.
A homemaker, Anuradha Devi also gave a detailed account on how Internet disruptions have affected
her daily life. While there was a 100 day Internet blackout in Darjeeling, she realized the
importance of the Internet, she felt isolated from the community and felt a forceful disconnect from
the rest of the world.
Earlier, I was using the Internet for the sole purpose of being active on social networking.
However, the Internet Shutdown in Darjeeling made me realize the actual importance of the Internet
and pointed my attention towards the fact that how important it has become for us to get information
about the world and be connected with each other. Not only we were cut-off from the outside world
but there was no way we could reach them and tell our condition.
- Anuradha Devi, a homemaker in Darjeeling.
When Internet services suddenly become unavailable at a time when so many aspects of our lives are
dependent on it, the impact can be felt not just economically but also psychologically. Saadia
Ishfaq, a Community Manager, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir told us that she felt like as if she was
Life came to a standstill. Snapping of Internet services was the biggest blow. There was no
communication at all. One couldn’t reach out to anybody.
- Saadia Ishfaq, a Community Manager, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
Impact on health industry.
Internet is 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. In addition, doctors often
consult their peers in complicated cases for advice, and with the advent of the Internet and
messaging services like WhatsApp, communications have become easier through images and videos.
Most hospitals host their databases on servers online. Also, various life saving drugs and
surgical instruments are shipped to us from across the world. Ordering, making payments and
subsequent tracking of shipment—all happen online. With the Internet shutdown, we needed to
improvise with a contingency plan since we didn’t have access to detailed patients’ information.
- Dr. Regina Rajkumari, Surgeon, a native of Manipur
Impact on Education.
An Internet shutdown is more than just a disconnection from Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter; it means
limiting access to knowledge and learning opportunities for students. It also leads to restriction
from avenues for learning that are provided by platforms like Coursera or edX.
Geeta Devi, a class XIIth student from Darjeeling spoke to us about the difficulties she and
peers faced in the application process for their college admissions during a sixty four day Internet
Shutdown in Darjeeling. It was a crucial time for all the newly school graduates to apply for their
higher studies, but due to lack of proper Internet services they failed to receive everyday updates
on admissions. As a result, Geeta missed the deadline and couldn’t apply for the course she desired
The 64 days long Internet shutdown in Darjeeling started in the month of July, that was
the time when admissions in most of the colleges and universities begin. As I passed my class 12
exams, I was thinking of pursuing law but could not even apply for the course as there were no
Internet services. Even the mobile networks kept on fluctuating which made it difficult to get any
kind of updates on admissions and otherwise. I am not the only one who is suffering, all the
students in Darjeeling are facing similar issues.
- Geeta Devi, a class XIIth student from Darjeeling
So, if our cause resonates with you, and if you realize that Internet should not be switched off
under any circumstance, take action and join our fight to #LetTheNetWork
Collaborate with Us
The IS Project is the only real time tracker that provides reliable
data on IS in India. It owes its success to its collaborative process of
data collection and verification. We rely on your engagement to help us
ensure data accuracy. Whether you are a victim of Internet Shutdowns, a
student, a journalist, a lawyer, or a public spirited person with
interest in the topic, we welcome you to participate in improving our work.
What can you do?
Is there a shutdown in your area? Did you find a document that may help
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What is an Internet shutdown?
We define an Internet shutdown as "a Government-imposed disablement of access to the Internet
as a whole within a particular locality or localities for any duration of time". There are
two key-components to this definition:
An Internet shutdown is always Government-imposed i.e. Internet Service Providers
serving the locality in question are ordered by an agency of the Government to cut-off
Internet services to that area.
An Internet shutdown always imposes a blanket ban on Internet access, where access to
the Internet as a whole is disabled, and not a surgical ban, where access to particular
content/services is disabled leaving access to other content/services unaffected.
Why are Internet shutdowns imposed?
Internet shutdowns are generally instituted as a measure to curb violence and unrest in conflict ridden areas. The explanation offered by authorities is that the Internet makes it much easier to spread rumors and false propaganda, making it more likely for violence to break out. Shutdowns are imposed at times in conflict prone areas as a preventive measure for similar reasons. Internet shutdowns have also been imposed in India for far more trivial reasons such as preventing cheating during exams and mitigating tensions during a highly anticipated wrestling match.
What if only mobile Internet services are disabled and fixed-line services are left untouched, or vice-versa? Are these still Internet shutdowns?
An Internet shutdown may target Internet services delivered over any medium – mobile (GPRS, Edge, 3G, 4G/LTE), fixed-line (dial-up, wired/wireless broadband) – and these may be targeted in any combination i.e. mobile alone, fixed-line alone, or both. As almost 95% of India’s Internet users access the Internet over mobile, shutdowns in India are seen to mostly target mobile Internet services. There have been no shutdowns of only fixed-line Internet till date, though fixed-line Internet services have been shut down alongside mobile in some cases.
Why do you exclude surgical bans on Internet access (where access to particular online content/services is disabled) from your definition of Internet shutdowns?
During situations of conflict, the preferred practice in India seems to be to cut-off access to the entire Internet rather than to selected content/services. Surgical bans on Internet access are equally condemnable, and we mainatin a separate record of blocked websites here. However, we have made the conscious decision to treat our fight against Internet shutdowns as an evolving one, where we first tackle the graver issue of blanket bans on Internet access and later expand to surgical bans.
Where do you get your data on Internet shutdowns?
At the moment, almost all of our raw data is collected from reports published in national and regional newspapers. Some information also reaches us by word-of-mouth, when friends and affiliates in and around affected areas bring Internet shutdown incidents to our attention. As the Government does not formally announce Internet shutdowns to the public before or after they happen, we currently rely entirely on secondary sources for information. We are working on technical methods to be notified of Internet shutdowns in real-time, but these are still in early stages of development and do not supply any information to our tracker as of yet. We urge the public to report any shutdowns that they experience through our website.
How reliable is your data?
To put it simply, our data is as reliable as the sources it comes from. We consider newspaper reports of Internet shutdowns to be more or less accurate by default, and therefore do not verify every report separately unless we have a reason to do so. On the rare occasions when news reports present conflicting information on certain shutdowns for instance, we try our best to independently verify this information from primary sources such as residents from the affected areas. We also verify all information on Internet shutdowns that reaches us by word-of-mouth by soliciting corroborating reports from our sources. Only verified instances are added to our database in such cases.
Who is this website for?
We expect that our website and the information it contains will benefit everyone who wishes to actively or passively participate in the debate around Internet shutdowns on any level. As the Internet stakeholder community comprises virtually all Internet users, this includes everyone from daily consumers of online infotainment, to students, researchers, and academicians who rely on the Internet to a large extent for research, businesses that have migrated much of their day-to-day operations online, civil society members looking to effectively engage in policy discussions, and even the Government, who has the unenviable task of regulating the open Internet in a fair, just, and reasonable manner while making sure that it is not used in ways that threaten the safety and well-being of citizens. We are inspired by global civil society organizations such as AccessNow who are laeding a global fight against Internet shutdowns. We hope other actors in India will find this website useful and join us in this fight.