When the internet is shut down, I have no work, do not get paid, cannot withdraw any money from my account, and cannot even get food rations.
—H.K., 35, a Dalit woman with five children, Rajasthan, September 2022
In August 2019, the Indian government completely blocked all communication networks in Jammu and Kashmir, including landlines, fixed line internet and mobile networks. The authorities sought to prevent Kashmiris from organizing protests after the government revoked the state’s constitutional autonomous status, splitting it into two separate federally governed territories.
While some services were gradually restored, mobile 4G internet access remained effectively down for over 500 days, until February 2021. Mobile internet is used by 96 percent of the population, and thus the shutdown impacted every aspect of daily life. As one journalist based in Srinagar, who asked not to be identified, told Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation:
Just imagine the number of times you use the internet in a day. For entertainment, for information, for job applications, for education, to connect with your loved ones, for checking up on things, for ordering things, for travel, for ticketing, for studying—it’s for every aspect of life. You start to realize its importance when it is taken away from you.
While the length of the 2019-2021 internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir was unprecedented, denying access to the internet has become a default policing tactic by Indian authorities, including to shut down protests or criticism of the government, and even to prevent cheating in school examinations. Since 2018, India has shut down the internet more often than any other country in the world. According to one estimate, India was responsible for the most shutdowns in 2022, for the fifth consecutive year, with 84 shutdowns out of 187 globally. While this report covers shutdowns up until December 2022, in March 2023, the entire state of Punjab had been placed under a three-day mobile internet blackout to track down a separatist leader. In May, the internet was completely blocked on both mobile and fixed line services in Manipur state for weeks following violent ethnic clashes.
The authorities contend the shutdowns are needed to prevent violence fueled by rumors circulated on social media or mobile messaging applications. “There is a big song and dance about the internet being cut. Now, if you’ve reached the stage where you say an internet cut is more dangerous than the loss of human lives, then what can I say?” said India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in September 2022.
However, as the Kashmiri journalist pointed out, the first challenge during the communications shutdown is the inability to share or access information. “It pushed you into a bubble and also created a fertile ground for rumors,” he said. Often, according to experts, internet shutdowns are kneejerk reactions and disproportionate in the harm caused.
Meanwhile, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s key digitization initiatives are being harmed by internet shutdowns. “Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in 2015, and since then, his government has assiduously pursued this policy. The “Digital India” project aims to use technology to improve delivery of public services and implement government programs.
This has made the internet essential for access to government welfare schemes (or programs) for social protection, including its right to work guarantee, its public distribution system under the Food Security Act, and for e-governance in rural areas. The population, particularly marginalized communities, have become particularly vulnerable during internet shutdowns. “All the government schemes are now dependent on the internet, so you can no longer get access to any of it without internet; even getting food rations require biometric authentication,” said Laavanya Tamang, a senior researcher at LibTech India, a nonprofit organization that works on improving public service delivery in India.
This joint report by Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation, based on research in India and over 70 interviews, documents the harm caused by internet shutdowns. Among those most affected are the country’s marginalized populations who depend on government programs and social protection systems. An annex to the report provides a comprehensive list of internet shutdowns in India’s 28 states (excluding the eight federally governed union territories) in the three years since the Indian Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in January 2020, which highlighted the importance of internet access for fundamental rights protected by the Indian Constitution.
The two organizations examined whether Indian state governments are complying with the court’s directives and found that decisions to snap internet access are often erratic and based on a vague, tenuous, and unsubstantiated understanding of a law and order problem, which does not satisfy the international legal threshold of a public emergency or a threat to public safety. Shutting down the internet to stem protests or criticism of government, for instance, does not constitute a legitimate aim and instead violates the right to peaceful assembly.
Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation call upon Indian central and state governments to end broad, indiscriminate shutdowns, and instead uphold commitments to “an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet” for everyone, and ensure that its restrictions on internet access do not undermine the rights and entitlements of the country’s marginalized communities.
Impact on Poverty and Social and Economic Inequality
Access to the internet is not only essential for freedom of expression and association, but also for a range of economic and social rights. As governments continue to digitize and automate core social security programs, internet access has and will increasingly become vital for the realization of the rights to social security, education, health, work, and the right to food, among others.
In India, most shutdowns involve cutting off access to the internet on mobile phones within a certain area. But this translates into an internet blackout for most of the population within this area, because 96 percent of internet subscribers in India use their mobile devices to access the internet, while only 4 percent have access to fixed line internet. Mobile connectivity is even more critical in rural areas, as 94 percent of fixed line connections were concentrated in urban areas. As such, these shutdowns especially harm people who cannot pay for fixed line internet, as well as those living in rural and remote areas where there is little to no access to fixed line internet.
For instance, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) provides vital income security for over 100 million households in rural areas by guaranteeing them employment for 100 days. Through this program, workers earn a daily wage ranging from 204 rupees (US$2.47) to 333 rupees (US$4.02) depending on the state they are in. Access to this income security program is vital given the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas. It has been especially vital for women’s empowerment: 58 percent of program participants in 2022-23 were women, most of whom came from socially and economically marginalized households.
However, as the government has moved to digitize NREGA, including its attendance checks and wage payments, adequate access to the internet has become essential for people’s ability to receive these vital benefits. Network coverage is already poor in remote areas covered by the program, causing serious challenges and setting back progress on poverty reduction, but shutdowns that cut off internet access only make the situation worse.
Since January 2023, the government has required all NREGA workers to be geo-tagged and photographed twice a day, on an online attendance app ostensibly to increase transparency and improve citizen oversight over NREGA work. Apart from the privacy concerns this raises, it also conditions people’s livelihoods on often unreliable internet access that stalls completely during internet shutdowns. In February 2023, hundreds of NREGA workers from across the country gathered in Delhi to begin a 100-day protest against the mandatory app-based attendance.
Several NREGA workers told Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation that they would not be paid if attendance was not registered in the app. “When the internet was shut down in 2022 [during protests opposing a government policy], the block officer asked us to stop work since we could not mark our attendance,” said R.C., a supervisor for NREGA in Haryana. “They said they could not pay without online attendance.”
“Just stop connecting NREGA to the internet,” said N.P., a 29-year-old Dalit woman from Rajasthan. “We travel far to reach our worksites, but have to go back home if the internet does not work. Entire families depend on NREGA for sustenance. How will we feed our children?”
Apart from harming the government’s efforts to ensure the right to livelihood, as enshrined in the Indian constitution, internet shutdowns also impact a key social protection policy to provide subsidized food grains under the National Food Security Act through a targeted public distribution system. In 2017, as part of schemes to digitize the government’s social security system and ostensibly increase administrative efficiency, the government required all people eligible for subsidized food rations to link their ration card with Aadhaar—the country’s biometric identity system. This was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018.
As a result, ration shops now require internet for Aadhaar authentication before providing food grains. R.K., who runs a shop under the public food distribution system, explained that when a customer comes, he uses an internet-linked machine to authenticate fingerprints with the biometric card. “The machine uses a SIM, similar to what we insert in a mobile phone, so when there is no internet, it doesn’t work,” he said, which prevents him from delivering the subsidized allocations.
To help people navigate the e-governance systems, state governments have set up common service centers in villages to help with basic banking, paying utility bills, registering for Aadhaar or other forms of government identification, as well as applying for and accessing official documents. These centers generally function on mobile internet, and shutdowns completely halt their work. These centers have also generated employment for local youth who lose their earnings during internet shutdowns. Said one common service center operator in Sonipat district in Haryana:
There was an internet shutdown at the time of farmers protests in 2022. When people came to withdraw money, they couldn’t do it. We faced similar issues during the shutdown because of Agnipath [a government scheme for military recruitment] protests as well. Also, we are paid on a commission basis, so we don’t earn any money when there is no internet.
The 2019 communications shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir, coupled with movement restrictions, severely affected access to medical and other emergency services, education, and livelihood. For months, Kashmiris could not use online banking, make digital payments, or order supplies. There was no contact with the outside world. As a 28-year-old Kashmiri professional said, “It felt like the silence of the graveyard.” The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that the six-month long communications shutdown cost more than $2.4 billion, and led to nearly 500,000 job losses.
On August 22, 2019, United Nations human rights experts issued a joint statement on Jammu and Kashmir urging the government to end the communications shutdown:
The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality…The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.
Legal Loopholes for Arbitrary Internet Shutdown
India’s laws to regulate internet shutdowns use overbroad language and lack adequate safeguards to ensure principles of necessity and proportionality. There is no effective accountability mechanism or judicial and parliamentary oversight, allowing frequent misuse and arbitrary decision-making.
The central and state governments of India are permitted to restrict or temporarily suspend internet services using the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
The Telegraph Act allows authorities to suspend internet services in case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety, including in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offense. However, these broad terms of public emergency and public safety are not defined in law.
Under the Telecom Suspension Rules, only a union or state home secretary can issue internet suspension orders, although there is an exception in case of emergencies, which allows an officer of a lower rank to issue internet suspension orders. These rules require the order to contain reasons for a shutdown and for the authorities to immediately forward the order for approval to a Review Committee, taking into account public holidays or weekends. However, Review Committees are made up of three officials of the central and state governments and thus lack independence. They are tasked with examining the legality of internet suspension orders and are required to meet within five days after the order is issued. The Review Committee cannot provide necessary oversight because it simply records its findings and does not have the power to stay or set aside suspension orders even when they are illegal.
In 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, in its report examining the impact of shutdowns, said, “The Suspension Rules have been grossly misused leading to huge economic loss and also causing untold suffering to the public, as well as severe reputational damage to the country.” It added that “the Government’s thrust is on digitization and knowledge economy with free and open access to internet at its core, frequent suspension of internet on flimsy grounds is uncalled for and must be avoided.”
The authorities also use section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which empowers district magistrates—government administrative officials—to take any preventive measures to deal with imminent threats to public order. This allows them to suspend the internet to maintain law and order, often maintaining secrecy around these orders by not publishing them, with complete lack of accountability or any form of oversight. The provision also allows magistrates to pass such orders ex parte—done on the basis of only one party—in circumstances of emergency, circumstances that were determined by them, without any in-built review mechanism.
In January 2020, in a landmark judgment, Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Ghulam Nabi Azad v. Union of India, the Indian Supreme Court held that suspension of internet services is a “drastic measure” that must be considered by the state only if it is “necessary” and “unavoidable,” after assessing the “existence of an alternate less intrusive remedy.”
Noting the lack of adequate safeguards in existing regulations, the court also laid down procedural safeguards for suspending internet services. It directed the authorities to always publish internet suspension orders and to ensure that the orders are lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope. The judgment directed the executive to ensure internet shutdowns are temporary and not indefinite. The Review Committee constituted under the Suspension Rules must ensure periodic review of internet suspensions every seven working days, the court said.
Arbitrary Internet Shutdowns
Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation identified 127 shutdowns in the three years between the Supreme Court’s Anuradha Bhasin judgment in January 2020 and December 31, 2022. Of 28 Indian states, 18 shut down the internet at least once in these three years. Local authorities used internet shutdowns in 54 cases to prevent or in response to protests, 37 to prevent cheating in school examinations or in exams for government jobs, 18 in response to communal violence, and 18 for other law and order concerns.
This number does not include internet shutdowns in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir where the authorities continued to shut down the internet more than any other place in the country.
Out of the 18 states that shut down the internet, at least 11—Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana—did not publish suspension orders as directed by the Supreme Court. Even if orders were published, the authorities often failed to justify the apprehension of risk to public safety. Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, and Assam governments shut down the internet to prevent cheating in examinations, which was clearly an unnecessary and disproportionate response.
The 2021 Parliamentary Standing Committee report concluded that “the principle of proportionality and procedure for lifting the shutdown are vague and lack clarity.”
An analysis of 85 shutdown orders from Rajasthan revealed that a majority, 44, were to prevent protests or in response to them, at least 28 were to prevent cheating in examinations, 9 to prevent communal violence or in response to it, and 4 to address other law and order concerns. Internet Freedom Foundation analyzed 26 internet suspension orders issued by Udaipur divisional commissioner and 30 suspension orders issued by Jaipur divisional commissioner between January 10, 2020 and September 25, 2021 and found that the authorities issued shutdowns frequently, followed a copy-paste template, and failed to ensure they were lawful, necessary, and proportionate. Most of the shutdowns were ordered to quell the right to protest and were imposed even when less restrictive measures may have been available.
The Indian government does not collect any data on internet shutdowns and has not provided any evidence to show that internet shutdowns are effective in countering terrorism or maintaining law and order. In 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee noted:
So far, there is no proof to indicate that internet shutdown have been effective in addressing public emergency and ensuring public safety. The Committee are of the view that using internet shutdowns to deal with Public Emergency and Public Safety reflects poorly on the part of the law and order machinery of the State to deal with such issues…Shutting down of internet to deal with such situation in countries like USA or European countries is unheard of and reflects poorly on India.
In February 2023, the Parliamentary Standing Committee in response to action taken by the government on its 2021 report, said it “deplored the [government’s] indifferent attitude” and strongly urged the authorities to commission a thorough study “so as to assess the impact of internet shutdown on the economy and also find out its effectiveness in dealing with public emergency and public safety.”
Karti P. Chidambaram, an opposition member of parliament and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee that authored the report, said internet shutdowns reflect a “colonial policing mindset,” and are a form of draconian law enforcement. “Our immediate reaction is to impose a curfew, shut down, keep people at home. It is still very British and that is still continuing. It is a very crude policing tactic and they have simply taken that and applied it to the internet, too.”
Lack of Monitoring and Accountability
Analysis of review committee orders from some Indian states show a lack of effective monitoring. Most committees simply agree with the government suspension orders, never challenging their legality or whether they meet the necessity and proportionality test.
Out of 28 states, 12 have established review committees. Kerala, which has never suspended internet access, said it has not constituted a committee, while 15 states did not provide any details in response to Right to Information requests on government policies on internet shutdowns. States do not make review committee findings public and rarely ever provide them in response to Right to Information requests.
The Rajasthan state government, for instance, said its review committee does not even meet or record findings, and that internet suspension orders are circulated to the responsible officers who merely provide their approval.
West Bengal shared the findings of its review committee with the Calcutta High Court during the hearing of a petition challenging the legality of a March 7, 2022 order suspending internet services in several districts to prevent cheating on exams. The review committee had upheld the order, saying it had a legitimate goal. But the High Court stayed the order, saying that it did not meet the proportionality test and was not passed by a competent authority provided under the legal provisions.
India’s International Legal Obligations
The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2016 unequivocally condemning internet shutdowns and called upon all states to “refrain from and cease such measures.” UN human rights experts have said blanket internet shutdowns violate international human rights law and in 2021 the UN secretary-general noted the need to reinforce universal access to the internet by 2030 as a human right. He emphasized that the UN would work with governments, business, and civil society to find alternatives to disruptive blanket internet shutdowns.
In June 2022, India signed a statement along with G7 nations and four other countries, committing to ensure “an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.” As a signatory to the Resilience Democracies statement, India also resolved to protect “the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensuring a free and independent media landscape through our work with relevant international initiatives.”
Access to the internet is widely recognized as an indispensable enabler of a broad range of human rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other human rights instruments to which India is a party. States have the obligation to respect and ensure the right to freedom of expression without distinction of any kind. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression are only permissible when they are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specific threat. Given their indiscriminate and widespread impacts, internet shutdowns rarely meet the proportionality test.
To the Indian Central Government and State Governments
- End broad, indiscriminate, and indefinite internet shutdowns.
- Ensure any restriction on internet access is lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope, and ensure compliance with international law as reflected in the Supreme Court directives in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India.
- Review and revise the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, after consultation with civil society groups, digital rights experts, and other stakeholders to bring the rules in line with international legal standards.
- Publish every internet suspension order with details on the reasons for shutdown, duration of the shutdown, legal provision under which the internet was suspended, and what efforts were made to ensure the suspension was necessary and proportionate.
- Establish a national-level database for all internet shutdowns in the country in which should be recorded all suspensions ordered, the reasons, duration, legal provisions used, the decisions of the competent authority, and decisions of the Review Committees. The database should be available publicly to ensure transparency and accountability.
This is a joint report by Human Rights Watch and New Delhi-based Internet Freedom Foundation.
Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is a registered charitable trust that advocates for the digital rights of Indians. Its mission is to ensure the growth of digitization with fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. IFF works on a wide range of issues, specializing in internet shutdowns, digital access, and free expression. It has provided legal assistance on internet shutdowns to petitioners before the Indian Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, 2020, and Foundation of Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, 2020. IFF is also involved in litigation challenging illegal, frequent, and arbitrary internet suspensions in the states of Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Assam. The group is involved in advocacy for preserving internet access, including by filing Right to Information applications to increase transparency surrounding internet shutdowns, and making representation before officials and regulatory bodies of the central and state governments in India.
This report is based on field research and interviews conducted in India from July 2022 to February 2023. Human Rights Watch and IFF interviewed over 50 people affected by internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya. Jammu and Kashmir has had the most shutdowns in the country, closely followed by Rajasthan.
In addition, the two organizations spoke to more than 20 lawyers, lawmakers, digital rights experts, civil society activists, and journalists to understand how internet shutdowns affect access to other basic rights, and the government’s compliance with domestic and international law, and orders from Indian courts.
The report also includes information from Right to Information requests filed by IFF with 28 state governments in February 2022. The Right to Information applications asked the governments to provide details regarding all internet shutdowns that they imposed in their territories after the Supreme Court, in its January 10, 2020 judgment in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India & Ors., set out procedural safeguards for suspending internet services. It directed the authorities to publish internet suspension orders and to ensure that the orders are lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope. The Right to Information requests sought to monitor state government compliance with the ruling as well as applicable law. Fifteen state governments responded to the Right to Information request. The findings are recorded in chapter V and in the appendix.
In cases in which the authorities failed to respond or refused to provide information, IFF filed first, and if necessary, second appeals. At the time of writing, second appeals were pending before the State Information Commissions of Punjab and Jharkhand.
The appendix documents a comprehensive list of internet shutdowns over three years following the Supreme Court’s Anuradha Bhasin judgment in January 2020, until December 2022, in all 28 Indian states.
The report also draws upon secondary literature, including research published by other rights groups, United Nations human rights experts, media reports, government reports, and court rulings.
The report uses pseudonyms for interviewees where requested, with identifying information withheld to protect interviewees’ privacy and safety. Human Rights Watch and IFF provided no remuneration or other inducement to the interviewees.
Internet shutdowns are measures taken by a government to intentionally disrupt access to, and the use of, information and communications systems online. Experts define internet shutdowns to include actions that restrict access to the internet completely, or slow down speed, or restrict certain content.
Governments can slow down speed by throttling bandwidth or limiting mobile service to 2G, which, while nominally maintaining access, renders it extremely difficult to make meaningful use of the internet. In particular, bandwidth throttling interferes with the ability to share and watch video footage and live streams. Another intervention is to allow access to some websites and services, also known as “whitelisting,” while continuing to shut down access to the rest of the internet. Shutdowns may affect towns or regions within a country, an entire country, or even multiple countries, and may last for periods ranging from hours to months.
Internet shutdowns are different from website blocking when certain websites or services are shut down. This report examines internet shutdowns in which the authorities completely cut off access on mobile phones, cut off access on both mobile and fixed line internet, deliberately slowed down or throttled internet speeds, or whitelisted certain sites.
Since 2018, India has shut down the internet more than any other country in the world. While the authorities have imposed a complete internet blackout in some instances in some parts of the country, more often, the shutdowns involve cutting off access to the internet on mobile phones. This, however, amounts to an internet blackout for the majority of the population because, as of November 2022, according to government data, 96 percent of internet subscribers accessed it using mobile devices while only 4 percent had access to fixed line internet. Mobile connectivity is even more critical in rural areas, as 94 percent of fixed line connections were concentrated in urban areas as of March 2021. The shutdowns thus disproportionately hurt people who cannot afford fixed line internet or those in rural and remote areas, where there is little to no access to fixed line internet.
Lack of Official Data
There is no official data on internet shutdowns because the central government does not keep a record. However, some rights groups and technology companies collect data on internet shutdowns. The international digital rights group Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition reported that in 2022, India was responsible for the most shutdowns in the world for the fifth consecutive year, with 84 shutdowns out of 187 globally. In 2021, according to the tech giant Meta, there were 101 intentional internet disruptions globally, out of which 41—more than any other country—were in India. While their numbers may differ depending on their sources and methodology, most data show that the largest number of intentional internet disruptions by the authorities took place in India.
Internet shutdowns run contrary to the commitments to digital freedoms made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In June 2022, India signed a statement along with Group of Seven (G7) nations and four other countries, committing to ensure “an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.” As a signatory to the Resilience Democracies statement, India also resolved to protect “the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensuring a free and independent media landscape through our work with relevant international initiatives.”
In July 2015, the Indian government launched its flagship “Digital India” program aimed at improving internet accessibility for all citizens, including in rural areas, and deliver essential services online in a transparent manner, reducing scope for corruption. The government stated in December 2022: “The overall goal is to ensure that digital technologies improve the life of every citizen, expand India’s digital economy, and creating investment and employment opportunities and create digital technological capabilities in India.”
Since then, the government has been pushing digitization in every aspect of life. It has promoted mobile banking, digital payments, and financial inclusion through the internet, including measures to reduce the cash economy. The Indian government’s digitization drive has made internet access essential for all rights entitlements from the right to work, to the right to food. All government welfare schemes are now linked to Aadhaar, the biometric identity card, and many require the internet to verify Aadhaar authentication at the point of delivery.
Only one out of three Indians in rural areas have access to the internet, while in urban areas, people have, on average, more than one internet connection. To address the digital divide, the central government has launched several initiatives, including to bring fixed line internet connectivity to rural areas. However, as India goes more digital, the authorities have also begun to suspend internet services more frequently.
Pradyut Bordoloi, an opposition member of parliament from the northeast state of Assam, has repeatedly said that the increasing number of internet shutdowns cannot be “justified as a solution to law-and-order challenges —it is a disproportionate, collective punishment that violates human rights and is unacceptable in any democratic society and particularly in an age of digital economy.” He told Human Rights Watch:
What the government is saying and what it is doing is paradoxical. On the slightest pretext, they want to shut down the internet. India has a great digital divide and instead of trying to bridge it, they are trying to aggravate it. The shutdowns are particularly of concern in Kashmir and northeast regions. Access to information is especially important in these places.
In 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee, in its report examining the impact of shutdowns, said that “when the Government’s thrust is on digitization and knowledge economy with free and open access to internet at its core, frequent suspension of internet on flimsy grounds is uncalled for and must be avoided.”
II. Legal Provisions Allowing Internet Suspension
India’s laws to regulate internet shutdowns use overbroad language, lack adequate safeguards to ensure principles of necessity and proportionality, and lack any effective accountability mechanism or judicial and parliamentary oversight, allowing for frequent misuse by central and state governments.
Until 2017, authorities routinely shut down the internet using section 144 of the Code of the Criminal Procedure. While the government has the responsibility to prevent violence, section 144 gives overbroad powers to a district magistrate to take any immediate measures to prevent “obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, of an affray.” The provision also allows magistrates to pass such orders ex parte—done on the basis of only one party—in “circumstances of emergency” as determined by them, without any built-in review mechanism.
These powers could be misused because they allow officials, based solely on their opinion or assessment of likely risk of violence, to suspend the internet to maintain public order without accountability or any form of oversight.
Indian Telegraph Act and Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules
To better regulate shutdowns, the Indian government in 2017 adopted the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, under section 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
According to the data from Software Freedom Law Center, which has been tracking internet shutdowns in India since 2012, shutdowns have increased since the Telecom Suspension Rules were adopted. Shutdowns increased from 79 in 2017 to 135 in 2018, and 77 in 2022, averaging 110 per year over the 2018-2022 period. Another group, Access Now, puts the number of shutdowns in 2022 at 84.
India’s central and state governments are permitted to restrict or temporarily suspend internet services under section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. This is in case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety, including when it is necessary or expedient in the interest of “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.” However, these broad terms of public emergency and public safety are not defined in law. In 2021, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology said there was a need to properly define public safety and public emergency, officials from the central government’s Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees law enforcement, did not do so.
Even though the 2017 Telecom Suspension Rules were brought in to better regulate the shutdowns, they were legislated in an opaque manner, without the standard public consultations with civil society and experts that normally accompany such legislation. They also did not include an effective accountability mechanism or limit the overbroad language in the Telegraph Act. According to the Telecom Suspension Rules, only a union or state home secretary is designated as a “competent authority” who can issue internet suspension orders. In case of emergencies where this is not possible, a joint secretary-level officer, duly authorized, can issue suspension orders subject to confirmation from the respective competent authority within 24 hours. If no confirmation is received, such orders would cease to exist. Telecom service providers should be given directions of suspensions by an officer not below the rank of superintendent of police or equivalent rank.
The Telecom Suspension Rules further require suspension orders to contain reasons for a shutdown and for the authorities to forward them to a review committee latest by next working day. Review committees are, however, made up of three officials from the central and state governments and thus lack independence. They are tasked with examining the legality of internet suspension orders and must meet within five days after the order is issued. However, the committee simply records its findings and does not have the power to stay or set aside suspension orders even when they are illegal. Moreover, the five-day period to examine the legality of shutdowns is often meaningless since most state governments suspend and restore the internet in that time.
In November 2020, the government amended the rules to limit internet suspension orders to 15 days. But there is nothing in the Telecom Suspension Rules preventing the government from passing a new suspension order every 15 days since the law does not limit the total duration of the shutdown but only limits the duration of each order. This amendment, too, was brought into effect without any public consultation despite the destructive impact on rights, and did not address concerns over lack of transparency and accountability. The Department of Telecom told the Parliamentary Standing Committee that it had only consulted the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Home Affairs before issuing the 15-day amendment. “No mechanism, as yet, has been laid down for regular consultation with various stakeholders including civil societies and public,” the Committee’s report noted.
A case challenging the constitutionality of the Telecom Suspension Rules has been pending before the Gauhati High Court, in Assam. The petition—IFF is a party to the proceedings—was admitted in February 2020, and argued that the law violated articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian constitution guaranteeing equality, freedom of expression, and right to life and personal liberty, and went beyond the scope, ambit, and legislative intent of sections 5(2) and 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
The Department of Telecom told the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2021 that the “understanding is that prior to these [Telecom Suspension] Rules, recourse was taken to section 144 to do the suspension. But once the Rules have come, then the suspension is done under these Rules.” However, at the same time, the central government said that it kept no record of whether section 144 was used for shutdowns or whether authorities other than those specified in the Telecom Suspension Rules continued to give orders to suspend the internet, making clear that the government had not established any monitoring of internet shutdowns.
News reports indicate that state and district officials have continued to order shutdowns under section 144, which empowers the state to take preventive measures to deal with imminent threats to public order. While social media has been used occasionally to incite violence, the authorities, instead of focusing on proportionate or necessary regulatory solutions, including very limited and targeted restrictions on specific accounts or on the content inciting violence, choose the route of suspending the internet under section 144, thus denying entire communities access to key services.
In June 2022, the Rajasthan state government shut down mobile internet services across the state under section 144 ostensibly to prevent communal violence, following the beheading of a Hindu tailor by two Muslim men. In May 2022, the district magistrate in Jodhpur in Rajasthan shut down mobile internet following communal violence. In March 2022, the West Bengal state government ordered the suspension of all forms of internet services during specific hours for eight days across multiple districts under section 144 as well as Telecom Suspension Rules, later admitting during court proceedings that the unlawful activities that the government aimed to curb was cheating during school examinations, which should be prevented by other means.
In November 2021, officials in Amravati district in Maharashtra state shut down mobile internet services for four days under section 144 to curb violence. In July 2021, district officials shut down the internet services for one day in Baran in Rajasthan under section 144 to prevent violence after a teenager was found murdered. In April 2018, news website Scroll.in reported that district magistrates in three states—West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh—ordered internet shutdowns under section 144, bypassing the Telecom Rules.
In its 2021 report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee noted that the Telecom Department had failed to take effective measures to ensure the Telecom Rules were implemented. It recommended that the department put in place a robust monitoring mechanism to ensure states do not resort to section 144 to shut down the internet without due process.
New Telecom Bill, 2022
In October 2022, the central government’s Department of Telecommunications released the Indian Telecommunications Bill, 2022, proposing to further expand the powers of the central and state governments to suspend internet services. Sections 24 and 25 of the bill propose to grant them overbroad powers when they deem it “necessary or expedient” to do so “in the interest of national security, friendly relations with foreign states, or in the event of war.” The law, if passed, would allow government officials to arbitrarily impose network disruptions at their discretion, without any meaningful safeguards, limitations, or remedies or accountability.
The Indian Telecommunications Bill appears to contravene the Supreme Court of India’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, which highlighted the importance of internet access for fundamental rights protected by the Indian Constitution. It also neglects the recommendations in the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on suspension of telecom and internet services.
Role and Responsibilities of Telecom Service Providers
The Central Government grants licenses under section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act to various types of telecom services, including internet services. While the government issues suspension orders, they are carried out by telecom service providers who are license-bound to comply with these orders or face suspension or revocation of license, financial penalty, and even criminal prosecution. The Unified License Agreement, which permits these operators to provide services, also requires them to comply with directions issued by the government to exercise its suspension powers under section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.
Telecom service providers have rarely ever resisted shutdown orders, even though they result in substantial economic losses. In December 2019, Cellular Operators Association of India, representing some of the biggest telecom companies in the country, estimated that mobile operators lost nearly US$350,000 in revenue every hour they were forced to shut down the internet. In September 2022, the Internet and Mobile Association of India wrote to the central government, asking it to exercise oversight over internet shutdowns, saying the current system in which states have the power to suspend internet services “causes significant inconvenience to local public at large.”
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights establish companies’ responsibilities when faced with requests for disruptions. Since shutdowns have a direct impact on the human rights of all those deprived of communications channels, it is vital that companies’ human rights policies address shutdowns by anticipating risks and exploring all lawful measures to challenge the implementation of disruptions.
Transparency is critical to stopping shutdowns and limiting their harmful consequences. Companies implementing or affected by restrictions are often the first, and sometimes the only, ones able to share accurate information on the nature of a shutdown and its scope. Therefore, clearly established practices for documenting and escalating demands within companies are vital to ensuring that information is quickly and effectively assessed. State-owned enterprises are bound by even higher standards, given their direct obligation to protect rights. Where possible, companies should collaborate with local and international stakeholders to mitigate harms.
Increasing demands over the years for carrying out communications disruptions have led private companies globally to create voluntary initiatives aimed at improving responses to such pressure. One example is the Global Network Initiative, which has adopted the Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, developed by companies, investors, civil society organizations and academics. The Global Principles are based on international laws and standards to protect, promote and support human rights, including through improved responsible decision-making, shared learning and multi-stakeholder collaboration. According to the Global Principles:
If national laws, regulations and policies do not conform to international standards, ICT [Information and Communications Technology] companies should avoid, minimize, or otherwise address the adverse impact of government demands, laws, or regulations, and seek ways to honor the principles of internationally recognized human rights to the greatest extent possible. ICT companies should also be able to demonstrate their efforts in this regard.
Indian Court Rulings
State-ordered disruptions in access to the internet and telecommunication services, their impact on freedom of expression and information, as well as data security and rights to privacy, have all been challenged in the courts.
Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India
In January 2020, in a landmark judgment Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Ghulam Nabi Azad v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that suspension of internet services is a “drastic measure” that must be considered by the state only if it is “necessary” and “unavoidable,” after assessing the “existence of an alternate less intrusive remedy.”
The petitions were filed in 2019 by Anuradha Bhasin, editor of the newspaper Kashmir Times, and then leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, Ghulam Nabi Azad. They challenged the prolonged internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir, which had been imposed by the central government on August 4, 2019, in anticipation of civil unrest after it revoked the region’s special constitutional autonomous status and split it into two centrally governed territories. Bhasin argued that the ban on communication services, in particular the restrictions placed on the internet, had affected both her right to free speech and her newspaper’s right to freedom of the press. Azad, who like countless others, had been prohibited from visiting the Kashmir Valley during the shutdown, until the Supreme Court intervened, said the shutdown had seriously impaired fundamental rights of the people, including their right to access health care and livelihood.
While the court did not rule on whether the right to access the internet is a fundamental right, it said:
We are confining ourselves to declaring that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet is constitutionally protected.
The court formally endorsed the principle of proportionality as the appropriate standard to review restrictions on internet access, but it simultaneously warned against “excessive utility of the proportionality doctrine in the matters of national security, sovereignty and integrity.”
However, the national security exception carved out by the state sets a dangerous precedent, legal experts wrote in the Indian Journal of Constitutional Law:
The Court neither explained why such an exception is warranted nor did it provide an alternate standard of review which would be appropriate for cases involving national security implications. Hence, the Court side-stepped any guarantee that the proportionality standard will be consistently applied in the future, and this loophole limits the judgement’s ability to deter arbitrary executive action in case of internet shutdowns or even other matters in which the plea of national security could be raised.
The Supreme Court also did not conduct any procedural review of the suspension orders issued under the Telecom Suspension Rules and section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, saying the government did not place all orders on record.  However, the government did present eight sample orders before the court and the petitioners argued that they violated several procedures. For instance, the petitioners said that the sample orders under the Telecom Suspension Rules that were issued by the inspector general of police violated rule 2(1), which permits only a union or state home secretary to issue internet suspension orders.
The Supreme Court recognized the lack of procedural safeguards in the legal framework regulating internet shutdowns. However, while it observed that internet shutdowns cannot be indefinite, it did not rule on the validity of the internet shutdowns in Kashmir or reverse the shutdown that had then been in effect for over five months. Instead, the court merely directed the state government to review all relevant orders, and said that the authorities should restore essential internet services in areas where it could not be immediately fully restored.
Other Significant Judgments
In September 2019, the Kerala High Court gave a landmark ruling in Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala that the right to have access to the internet was a part of right to education as well as the right to privacy under article 21 of the Constitution. The petition was filed by Faheema Shirin against discriminatory rules in dormitories for women students restricting the use of mobile phones between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., which prevented them from accessing the internet. The petitioner was subsequently arbitrarily expelled from the dorm for protesting the rules, and had sought judicial intervention.
In May 2020, the Supreme Court in Foundation of Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir held that internet suspension orders must be territorially restricted to reduce harm. The petitioners, Foundation of Media Professionals, Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir, and Soayib Qureshi had approached the court when, after five months of complete internet shutdown, the authorities had only restored mobile internet to 2G level on January 25, 2020. The petitioners sought access to 4G mobile internet arguing that during Covid-19 and the subsequent national lockdown, internet restrictions affected their right to health, education, livelihood, and freedom of expression. The court directed the authorities to set up a special committee of state and national-level bureaucrats to determine whether the internet restrictions should continue, and held, “One of the criteria for testing the proportionality of the orders is the territorial extent of the restrictions... In this regard, our attention is drawn to the fact that blanket orders have been passed for the entire territory rather than for specific affected areas.”
In recent years, Indian courts have stayed internet suspension orders at least twice, offering relief to affected populations.
In December 2019, the Gauhati High Court directed the Assam state government to restore mobile internet services that were suspended in response to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act passed by the central government. The Assam government had ordered all forms of internet services to be suspended on December 11, first in 10 districts and then throughout the state. On December 17, the state government restored fixed line internet services, but mobile internet remained suspended until the morning of December 20. The court, responding to four public interest litigations challenging the legality of the suspension orders, held that the state government had failed to demonstrate how the prevailing law and order situation necessitated continuing the internet suspension.
On March 10, 2022, the Calcutta High Court stayed a state government order to suspnd internet services as a preventive measure. The state government ordered that all forms of internet services be suspended during specific hours for eight days between March 8 and March 16 across multiple districts, saying that it feared the internet may be used for unlawful activities, but did not specify. However, the dates and times when the authorities wanted to block the internet coincided with secondary school examinations, suggesting unlawful activities that the government said it wanted to curb was actually cheating in tests. In response to a petition, filed by a digital literacy fellow at the IFF, the court stayed the suspension order saying it was issued by an authority not empowered to do so under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, it did not disclose why the internet needed to be suspended, and that it failed the proportionality test.
III. Impact of Internet Shutdowns on Human Rights
When you see a shutdown happen, it’s time to start worrying about human rights.
—Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, UN human rights office, June 2022
Internet shutdowns affect a range of fundamental rights including people’s ability to receive or impart information, participate in political debates or decisions, conduct economic activities including e-commerce, online banking, and filing taxes, reach their loved ones, or access medical care. Doctors are unable to access vital information and patients’ records in time, and students and teachers are unable to access educational materials, or submit applications, or apply for admissions or scholarships.
In India, since shutdowns more frequently affect mobile internet services, they have a disproportionate effect on poor and marginalized communities, many of whom only access the internet on their phones and cannot afford or access fixed line internet.
Rights to Freedom of Expression and Assembly
The internet is vital for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to peaceful assembly. It has also become essential for journalists, researchers, and human rights activists because they increasingly use encrypted online communications applications to protect themselves and their sources from surveillance, and to keep their sources safe from any kind of retaliation. The internet and especially social media platforms have become an important tool for civil society to mobilize and show solidarity or participate in peaceful dissent.
Journalists rely on the internet to send their reports on deadline and upload photographs and videos. Many journalists use digital platforms to present or publish their work. An internet shutdown therefore hobbles the efficient and timely gathering and dissemination of news. Most journalists who spoke to Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation said that in the absence of the internet, people relied more on rumors, which can cause panic and create greater insecurity.
A Manipur-based journalist, who asked not to be identified, told Human Rights Watch that internet shutdowns affected their ability to do their work: “This is a social media era. All the important updates are made on social media, including by the government, which uses it to post all its notifications. We are totally unaware during internet shutdown. We have no idea what is going on.”
A journalist who was in Assam during the sometimes-violent December 2019 protests against the discriminatory the Citizenship Amendment Act, said,
Both as a reporter and a woman, it felt more unsafe to go out there and report during the protests when the internet was shut down. Internet has become a helpful tool for everyone, especially reporters, in such risky times. Without internet, you could not call for backup or broadcast the trouble you are in, and that made it riskier.
Another journalist caught in a week-long internet shutdown in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, while covering the 2015 agitation by a community demanding access to jobs and education, said the shutdown also meant no access to any information. He said:
Had I been able to communicate with other journalists, who mostly prefer to message on WhatsApp, it would have been safer to do the job. Also, there is a lot of surveillance and so as journalists, we prefer not to speak on the phone and prefer to communicate on encrypted platforms, making the work more secure.
During the lengthy internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir that began in August 2019, journalists were unable to contact their sources or editors, or to file their reports, severely impairing press freedom. The government set up a media center in a private hotel in August, initially with only four terminals that had fixed internet connections to service around 300 journalists working in the valley. The number of computer terminals increased over time following demands from journalists. But the internet service was slow, with photos and videos impossible to transfer, said journalists who had to wait for hours in queue to access a terminal. The worst was surveillance and the inability to protect their sources, if they chose to use the government’s media center, journalists said.
This led Anuradha Bhasin, editor of the Kashmir Times, to petition the Supreme Court challenging the prolonged internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir. The Supreme Court, in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, held that suspension of internet services, is a “drastic measure” that the state should consider only if it is “unavoidable.”
Rights to Peaceful Protests, Freedom of Assembly
Indian state governments across the country have shut down the internet in response to protests, especially when they are critical of government policies or actions. In December 2019, in response to widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, several state governments used section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to bar public assemblies and at least 10 states—Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, West Bengal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan—suspended the internet in certain areas.
In November 2020, hundreds of thousands of farmers gathered on the outskirts of the capital, Delhi, to demand that the BJP-led central government withdraw three farm laws passed that September. The protests were peaceful until January 26, 2021, when protesters broke through police barricades to enter Delhi and clashed with the police. Following the violence, the central government shut down mobile internet services at several protest sites bordering Delhi to “maintain public safety.” The Haryana state government also suspended mobile internet services in most of the state until February 1, 2021, and then further extended beyond February 4 in some areas.
Rights groups condemned the shutdowns, saying the government was using them “to suppress the free flow of information related to peaceful assembly and the fundamental right to protest.”
As with other protests, farmers had used internet-based communication to organize, drawing people from across several Indian states to the capital’s outskirts. The internet helped them to coordinate between the sites, organize food and essential supplies as they sat in protest on the roads for over a year, and to communicate with families and communities back home. The internet was also crucial to disseminate information and present their point of view, especially to counter rumors and inaccurate information presented by those opposed to their protests. “Social media plays an important role in our movement,” one farmer told the media in December 2020. “While all kinds of media are writing about us, social media helps us tell our truth in our own words.”
Bir Singh, a 64-year-old farmer from Haryana who participated in the protests for a year, said the internet shutdown at the protest site stifled their voices, especially at a time when the media were not reporting their stories, or presenting accurate information. He said that it also caused panic among their families back home and made it difficult for them to organize essential supplies. He said:
The authorities shut down the internet not just at protest sites but, at times, they would also suspend the internet in the villages nearby. It made it difficult for us to connect with family members back home or inform them what was happening. We had WhatsApp groups to coordinate so they could help out with milk and food, but we couldn’t do that during the internet shutdown because they also shut down the internet in many of the districts where we came from.
Social media also played a huge role in helping them to reach global audiences, including the Indian diaspora, and to receive support and solidarity. Pawan Kumar, 52, a Dalit farmer from Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, said the internet shutdown made it difficult for farmers to continue protesting:
It made it difficult to coordinate. Earlier, through WhatsApp groups, we would know when to assemble, what to bring to the protest sites, and so on. When the internet was not working for three to four days, we could not do anything. Fewer people assembled at protest sites, and only those who got phone calls from the organizers could come.
Internet shutdowns also prevent unions from organizing workers and affect collective bargaining. Prem Kushwaha, 36, a factory worker and trade union leader in Madhya Pradesh state said, “The internet is important to the work I do. It helps me coordinate with other workers in the factory and organize when we want to raise demands. All our conversations are on WhatsApp. So, if they shut down the internet, it prevents us from communicating effectively.”
A human rights activist in Manipur, who asked not to be identified, said he believed the internet shutdowns served political interests rather than address law and order: “By and large it is being weaponized to subdue narratives that are not in the authorities’ political interests, and to shut down dissent or critical voices such as voices who ask questions or seek accountability.” Internet shutdowns can often do the opposite—instead of quelling rumors, they can fuel them, he said.
When the internet is shut down, the rumors get worse, and it can be more dangerous. It also affects our ability to work in the field and gather information about human rights violations. In 2022, there was a controversy about a proposed law, and social media was not talking about facts. So, we wanted to put the actual text of the legislation online, but we could not because the authorities shut down the internet. It would have actually helped the government if we were able to do so, but instead rumors spread. If you shut down the internet, facts cannot be communicated.
Access to Education
An April 2022 report by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to education found that “Internet shutdowns also often have a severe impact on the right to education, impeding learners in accessing online education, taking online exams or applying online for scholarships.” The report adds: “Technology can support accessibility by ensuring that all students have access to education through modern technology, including those who have limited physical access for any reason.” It further notes that “the right to education must include digital agency as a goal, understood as the ability to control and adapt to a digital world with digital competence, digital confidence and digital accountability.”
B.D., 22, a university student in Meghalaya said that internet shutdowns seriously impeded his education:
As a student, internet is the main source of information for me. Once the internet is shut down, I cannot access anything I need to study. I cannot connect with my friends either in study group discussions. Literally everything I do is on the internet, all my documents, source of information, reference materials, academic articles are mainly on the internet. It hurts students like me disproportionately because the government mostly shuts down mobile internet and we do not have access to fixed line internet in the hostel.
Several state governments in India, including Rajasthan, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam, have shut down the internet to prevent cheating during examinations. But these shutdowns have caused problems for students taking these exams including their ability to print exam entry passes, or being able to reach the examination halls when they rely on internet maps or use app-based taxi services.
An e-governance service provider in Ajmer district in Rajasthan recalled an instance in June 2022, when an internet shutdown prevented him from helping a child’s admission in school: “Three months back, a woman came to me to make her jan aadhaar card [a family identity card] and I could not help her. She really needed it for her child’s admission. She left eventually, because I could not to do anything without internet access.”
Krishna Kumari, 19, from a village in Haryana, graduated from 12th grade in May 2022. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, they were completely dependent on the internet for education: “Teachers would send us study materials on WhatsApp. But when the government shut down the internet during farmers protests in 2021, we had no means of studying.”
A 20-year-old woman from Bhilwara district in Rajasthan said internet shutdowns disrupted her ability to prepare for an exam to teach in government schools, in July 2022. “When they shut down the internet so close to the exams,” she said, “we could not access study materials online and it really disturbed my studies.”
In Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala, in September 2019, the Kerala High Court recognized the right to have access to the internet as a part of the right to education as well as the right to privacy under article 21 of the constitution. In this case, challenging mobile device use restrictions in dormitories for women college students, the court recognized the autonomy of women students to use digital tools to further their right to education.
Jammu and Kashmir: India’s Longest Internet Blackout
Jammu and Kashmir has experienced the most internet shutdowns in the country. Since 2012, of the 690 country-wide shutdowns in India, 418 (61 percent) have been in Jammu and Kashmir. Peerzada Raouf Ahmad, an assistant professor at Jindal Global Law School in Haryana who is working with a team of faculty and students on internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir, said:
In Kashmir, internet shutdowns serve as an instrument of control that perpetuate a state of permanent undeclared emergency. Its implications go far beyond the idea of control to governance through disciplining the population. It works with the assumption that treats the entire population as suspect. Whenever there is an internet shutdown in an area of Kashmir, everyone living there becomes a suspect and a possible threat. This reduces citizens to a state of permanent precarity that jeopardizes the entire idea of democracy.
The Jammu and Kashmir shutdown that began in August 2019 was unprecedented. On August 5, 2019, the Indian government imposed a complete communication blackout in the region in anticipation of unrest as the government announced that it was revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which granted constitutional autonomy and splitting the state into two separate federally-governed territories—Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh. The authorities suspended landlines, mobile calling services, SMS services, mobile internet and fixed line internet. The government set up one landline at the deputy commissioner’s office in Srinagar, and people often had to walk long distances, then wait for hours, simply to make that one phone call to relatives outside. The government also detained several political leaders, imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement, banned public meetings, and deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region.
The total blackout on fixed line internet and mobile networks lasted nearly 213 days, until March 4, 2020. The shutdown on mobile 4G internet access effectively lasted even longer, for 550 days, until February 2021. A freelance journalist based in Srinagar, who asked not to be identified, told Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation:
Just imagine the number of times you use the internet in a day. For entertainment, for information, for job applications, for education, to connect with your loved ones, for checking up on things, for ordering things, for travel, for ticketing, for studying—for every aspect of life. You start to realize its importance when it is taken away from you.
The communications shutdown, coupled with movement restrictions, caused a complete information blackout in the region. Families were unable to check in with each other. People could not properly access medical services. Schools and colleges were closed, and without internet or telephones, education was completely disrupted. Livelihood was severely impacted. Residents did not have accurate information about the unfolding political and social developments within Kashmir and in the rest of the world. It also prevented them from sharing their trauma or voice protest. As a 28-year-old Kashmiri professional said, “It felt like the silence of the graveyard.”
The authorities enforced this shutdown at great cost for people to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression. “In effect, the government has placed all of us in prison,” a businessman said in August 2019. “We cannot move freely. We cannot speak freely. Isn’t that prison?” One woman said she had heard her mother, who lives in another town, was unwell, but could not call her or meet her: “If you cannot call your family, meet your mother, how is that normal?”
In August 2019, UN human rights experts issued a joint statement on Jammu and Kashmir urging the government to end the communications shutdown:
The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality…The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence. 
That November, the authorities restored internet access on fixed line internet in Jammu but not Kashmir. Fixed line internet was restored in Kashmir on March 4, 2020.
Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, said the newspaper’s Srinagar edition could not be distributed on August 5, 2019, and could not be published for over two months, from August 6, 2019 to October 11, 2019. Even after that, she said, only a truncated copy of the newspaper was published because of the suspension of internet and SMS services. In her petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the internet shutdown, she stated: “By enforcing the communication shutdown, the Respondents have not restricted, but eroded, the freedom of speech of the Press and Media.”
On January 14, 2020, following the Supreme Court’s directions in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, the government partially restored mobile access to the internet. The authorities provided access to select “whitelisted websites” at 2G mobile internet speed, but there was a ban on social media and Virtual Private Networks (VPN). The government slowly expanded the list of whitelisted websites and eventually removed the ban on social media and VPNs, but continued slowing down mobile internet speed to 2G until February 5, 2021.
As a result, the internet shutdown on mobile networks in Kashmir effectively continued during Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown, when access to information became more essential than ever before. The suspension of mobile internet services that lasted nearly 17 months hurt a large majority of the population that use internet on mobile phones rather than fixed line internet.
In their 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN experts and rapporteurs declared that, even in times of conflict, “using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e., shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.”
The government argued that social media and internet-based mass messaging apps have fueled rumors leading to violence in Jammu and Kashmir in the past, and that the restrictions saved lives. In September 2022, during a visit to the United States, Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar denounced media criticism, including of internet shutdowns. “There is a big song and dance about the internet being cut. Now, if you’ve reached the stage where you say an internet cut is more dangerous than the loss of human lives, then what can I say?” he said. “If you look at A [Article] 370-issue, what was a temporary provision of the Constitution was finally put to rest, this was supposed to be an act of majority. This was supposed to be majoritarian. Tell me what was happening in Kashmir was not majoritarian? I think the way facts are slanted, things are laid out, what is right, what is wrong is confused. This is actually politics at work.”
However, the government did not make any of the internet suspension orders public to determine whether they met the test of necessity and proportionality. Even when the shutdown was challenged in the Supreme Court, in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, the government only shared eight suspension orders, refusing to allow full transparency.
The internet blockade also had a severe impact on the human rights defenders and community leaders detained by the authorities, according to a July 2022 report by the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. The report documented how family members whose relatives were arbitrarily detained spent months trying to find information about their whereabouts, and in many cases the detainees were transferred out of state and held in prisons in other parts of India. In one case, a Kashmiri activist said his family could only speak to their detained relative using a landline set up by the district administration or the local police, as neither his family nor most people in his village owned a landline. This meant discussing any sensitive information concerning their legal defense was impossible, impacting both the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial and to due process.
David Kaye, then UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, was one of the international experts who called on the Indian government to end the communication shutdown in Kashmir and had raised concerns over internet suspension. Following the Kashmir shutdown, he said that internet shutdowns are extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, in democratic countries:
There is no question that the government has a responsibility to maintain public order and to protect the right to life and other human rights values in Kashmir. But the shutting down of internet and the current situation is really quite draconian. Shutting down all communication is a disproportionate interference with the freedom of expression of people in Kashmir. It is as also an interference with the people of India’s right to information about what the government is doing and what is happening in Kashmir. For a democratic country to do so is quite unusual and unprecedented. 
Right to Education
Children were among the most affected in Jammu and Kashmir by the shutdown. They lost nearly three years of education. First when the schools and communications were shut in August 2019. Then, by the time fixed line internet services were restored and schools began to open in 2020, there was a national shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While children in the rest of the country had some access to education online, the internet shutdown prevented children in Kashmir from online learning during the pandemic. Schools in Kashmir opened after 32 months, in March 2022.
“The impact on education has been particularly severe,” the Human Rights Forum for Jammu and Kashmir noted in its July 2020 report, saying that since the lockdown to contain Covid-19, “The limiting of networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function adequately. Graduate students and teachers have been unable to participate in conferences or have their papers published, causing willful harm to their careers and violating the rights to education.”
“We have more than 100,000 children in the grade 1 to 8 category, out of school in Jammu and Kashmir right now,” G.N. Var, president of the Private School Association in Jammu and Kashmir told Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation. He said the internet shutdowns disproportionately hurt children from poorer households who could not afford fixed line internet or to send their children out of the region for education:
We have lost an entire generation of children in Kashmir to internet shutdowns and the learning losses are so high that it is very difficult to breach this loss even for those children who have returned to school. The problem of frequent internet shutdowns persists. As a result, students are lacking in many fields. Dropout rates for the last two to three years have significantly increased, and we see serious behavioral and attitudinal issues among children, including suicidal tendencies and growing dependence on drugs. Imagine children being out of school, deprived of the internet when everywhere else, they know children are connected. It has created a general sense of sadness and depression.
M.R. Farooq, general secretary of the Travel Association of Kashmir, said the internet shutdowns and throttling had affected his children. In April 2020, as part of a plea to the Supreme Court to seek restoration of 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir, he said:
Since we are in lockdown from August 2019, our kids have been indoors. It has affected their education very badly. One of my kids is in 10th standard [grade] and the other is in 9th standard [grade]. For the whole day, they keep using smart phones and other gadgets and they keep trying to download smart classes. But at the end of the day when they feel they aren’t able to study, they feel frustrated.
Social activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat also talked about his inability to download or upload online classes for his two children, who study in grades four and seven. “Doesn’t the establishment [government] know they are ruining the lives of our children?” Zarin, a young lawyer and an aspirant for the civil services, was unable to download reference material for entrance classes during the long internet shutdown. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, as part of the plea to restore 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir, she said: “Education is our basic right and do they want us to be illiterate? Every youth is suffering.”
Right to Health
The extended and broad shutdown of the internet impacted essential activities and services, including emergency services and health services.
A doctor in a government hospital in Jammu and Kashmir said the communications shutdown meant all emergency numbers were out of reach:
You could not reach the fire station, ambulance, or police. There was complete chaos. For simple things like rosters, shifts—we could not find out whether we are on duty. Most importantly, patient care suffered as there were delays and emergency care was encumbered. We were lucky if we found a functioning landline in the hospital. And there was a such rush for that one phone.
Even when the internet was restored to 2G, it was too slow. For instance, we could not do tele-consultations or live transmissions of robotic surgery procedures for study purposes. We did not have access to journals or libraries. As doctors, we have to continuously update ourselves which we could not do.
In August 2019, a government doctor held a protest in Srinagar, saying that shutting the internet was preventing people, particularly the poor, from obtaining government health insurance, since it is linked to individual digital cards that need to be swiped to retrieve medical records. Instead of addressing this issue, the authorities arrested him, according to media reports.
The Covid-19 health crisis made the role of internet even more essential to save people’s lives and bring the pandemic under control. Internet service was critical to access timely and accurate information, updates on health measures, and movement restrictions, and to communicate with doctors, family and friends. With only 2G internet in Kashmir, people were unable to access anything beyond text messages.
In March 2020, the UN high commissioner for human rights urged all governments to end any and all internet and telecommunication shutdowns. “Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, fact-based and relevant information on the disease and its spread and response must reach all people, without exception,” a statement said. That month, leading international free speech experts said restrictions on access to the internet “cannot be justified” during the Covid-19 crisis even on “public order or national security grounds.” They called on governments as a matter of priority, to “ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible internet service.”
Riyaz Ahmad Daga, spokesperson for the Doctors Association of Kashmir, said disseminating safety precautions and awareness to the people living in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir became very difficult with the mobile speed restrictions and without video. “How do we ensure that the knowledge that we have [on the virus] is disseminated to the common people? It’s impossible to upload videos at the moment, upload information on COVID 19, what precautions can people take?”
Social activist Umaan Omar said lack of high-speed internet also made it impossible to verify facts regarding use of certain medicines during the pandemic, “like the various pieces of information trickling in on whether or not to use hydroxychloroquine. But 2G makes it impossible for sites to open. And that fuels rumors.”
Economic Costs and Right to Livelihood
The internet shutdown also led to huge economic and job losses. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that the six-month long communications shutdown cost more than $2.4 billion, and nearly 500,000 job losses.
Tourism is a significant source of revenue for Kashmiris. M.R. Farooq, general secretary of the Travel Association of Kashmir, said life with slow internet “was worse than hell” and had led to severe losses in the business:
With 2G, as a tour operator and secretary of the biggest travel association of Kashmir I’ve received complaints from all the stakeholders as well as my members that they are not even able to communicate to people through email. It’s very difficult to send an email. It takes a long time. We have to send attachments to promote our products which they’ve not been able to do till now unfortunately.
Internet-based businesses struggled to stay open, with many shutting shop during the 2019 shutdown, leaving thousands of people jobless. KartFood, a food delivery company, and Kashmir Box, an e-commerce platform dealing in Kashmiri goods, including handicrafts, saffron, and clothes reportedly had to close down in August 2019, after the internet was suspended.
A Kashmiri woman living in London, who often bought goods from home online, said:
A couple of years before 2019, there was a spurt of small businesses using online platforms like Instagram to sell goods. Women would make little things like crochet hats and put them on Instagram, small start-ups sprouted in the online ecosystem, but the 2019 lockdown completely killed it.
A 32-year-old professional based in Srinagar, who creates content online, said he lost his livelihood for about seven months, earning nothing:
For me, an internet shutdown means I am not able to work, and I may not be able to recover when it comes back on either. The way algorithms work on social media and video channels, if you are unable to feed the internet regularly with content, you will lose out. It has hurt my work irrevocably.
In November 2019, when fixed line internet services were restored in Jammu but not Kashmir, thousands of Kashmiris took a train to Banihal, a hill town about 60 miles south of Srinagar, to access the internet for essential services. Internet cafes in town were packed by young professionals and students submitting forms and applications and customers filing taxes, conducting banking transactions, and submitting official documents, from driver’s licenses to tenders. The train, dubbed the “Internet Express” by local residents, became a lifeline for Kashmiris at that time. Said a journalist:
A friend of mine owned a handicrafts business and he had to urgently send emails with invoice and receipt attachments to his client. Without that, he would not be paid for his sales. This was in November, so we got on a train in Banihal, many people traveled there every day from the city to access the internet for just five minutes of access.
IV. Impact on Government’s Social Protection Measures
The Indian government’s drive to digitize administrative processes has made internet access essential for people’s ability to access state programs and social protection schemes, including right to work guarantees, food subsidies, and other e-governance services. By severing this necessary internet access, internet shutdowns impact the country’s most economically and socially marginalized populations, who depend on government social protection programs or schemes to protect and fulfill their rights, including the rights to social security, work, and food, among others.
“All the government schemes are now dependent on the internet, so you can no longer get access to any of it without internet; even getting food rations require biometric authentication,” said Laavanya Tamang, a senior researcher at LibTech India, a nonprofit organization that works on improving public service delivery in India.
N.S., from the Dalit community, is a volunteer in a panchayat (elected village council) in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan. He said that nearly all their work halts without access to the internet. The panchayat does not have fixed line internet and relies solely on mobile internet:
To get paid for any work under government schemes whether it be the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or Indira Aawas Yojana, you need to upload attendance or proof of work online. A lot of the payments are made through Aadhaar [biometric identity card mandatory to access government welfare schemes] authentication which requires internet. People rarely go to the bank which can be very far, but instead go to the common service center, to withdraw their earnings under government schemes. But if the net is not working, they cannot be paid. We also use WhatsApp to send key information to about 12 to 13 villages, about 4,000 people. We also use WhatsApp sometimes to ask people to maintain calm when the emotions are heightened. Shutting down the internet really harms people’s daily lives.
Right to Work
The Indian government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guarantees eligible workers 100 days of wage employment in each financial year to provide income security in rural areas. Workers earn a daily wage ranging from 204 rupees (US$2.47) to 333 rupees (US$4.02) based on which state they are in. Historically, more women than men in rural areas have participated in NREGA—58 percent in the year 2022-23, most of whom come from socially and economically marginalized households, and it has been pivotal in changing their working conditions, experts say. However, as the government has moved toward full digitizing the entire scheme, including attendance and wage payments, internet shutdowns basically bring the whole scheme to a halt, NREGA workers told Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation.
In May 2021, the Ministry of Rural Development launched the National Mobile Monitoring Software app, which would record the real-time, geo-tagged, photographed attendance of every worker twice a day, each morning and evening. According to the government, this was to increase transparency and improve citizen oversight over NREGA work. Local women at the village council level are selected and trained to operate the app on their smartphones. In May 2022, the national Ministry of Rural Development made it mandatory for all NREGA worksites employing more than 20 workers to use the online attendance system through the National Mobile Monitoring Software app, with no option for manual attendance, other than in exceptional circumstances. From January 2023, the mandatory use of this app was extended to all NREGA worksites, irrespective of the number of workers they employed.
During the pilot phase, Libtech India documented the challenges with the new digital system. Lack of a stable internet in most places in rural areas, and especially at remote NREGA job sites, meant workers’ attendance could not be marked in real time and they risked losing wages. Additionally, since the app requires a smartphone to operate, only women with smartphones could be selected to operate the app, ruling out most women from socially and economically marginalized households. This basically failed the objective to empower local women to manage attendance and play the role of a community supervisor. Also, since there are no physical records of attendance, workers have no evidence to provide proof of their attendance if a dispute arises over owed wages.
Tamang, at Libtech India, said that besides the problems with app-based attendance recording, internet shutdowns also impacted job orders and wage transfers:
Even without the app-based attendance, NREGA is entirely dependent on Management Information System online. If the internet is shut down, NREGA cannot function. All the muster rolls—the attendance sheets for worksites—are issued electronically by government officials at block level and communicated to village councils and eventually to workers, using mobile internet. Without mobile internet, this becomes more tedious and time consuming.
Mobile internet shutdown also affect wage payments. The wage lists and the fund transfer orders are generated online which require people at panchayat and block level to sign. So, what most village headmen do is that once they get the fund transfer order on their phones, they digitally sign. Panchayats do not commonly have fixed line internet to be able to do this. NREGA is the right to work and right to livelihood but in real terms it is being eroded because it is now harder for people to work. Internet shutdowns are the easy thing to do, but not the right thing to do.
In February 2023, hundreds of NREGA workers from across the country gathered in Delhi to begin a 100-day protest against the mandatory app-based attendance recording and Aadhaar-based payments.
Government officials sometimes tell NREGA workers that they cannot be paid unless the attendance is registered in the app. “When the internet was shut down in 2022 [in response to protests against a government scheme], the block officer asked us to stop work since we could not mark our attendance. They said they could not pay without online attendance,” said R.C., a NREGA supervisor in Haryana. “A lot of the time, our job sites are in the middle of mountains where there is no service,” said 23-year-old M.C., a NREGA community supervisor in Rajasthan. “Without internet we are not able to take online attendance and upload photos.”
S.W., another NREGA community supervisor in Rajasthan, had a similar account:
Yesterday, the officials came to check on the worksite, and because there was no internet service, I was unable to register attendance of 43 workers. The officials told me that “now you have to pay them from your own pocket. If you cannot mark online attendance, then do not make them work.” And they took the register, in which I had physically recorded the attendance, away. When the internet was shut down in June-July 2022, they shut down all job sites.
H.K., 35, a Dalit woman with five children, from Bhilwara district in Rajasthan said NREGA was her family’s lifeline:
I have been working in NREGA for two years. There is no other work. Without it, I cannot run my household. When the internet is shut down, I have no work, do not get paid, cannot withdraw any money from my account, and cannot even get food rations.
P.F., a Dalit NREGA community supervisor in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan recalled how the workers were not paid for their work in July 2022 because of inability to upload online attendance. “Last month, we worked for 15 days but we only got paid for 12 days because the net did not work on three days. So, now we will have to work another three days for free to get money for that.”
“Just stop connecting NREGA to the internet,” said N.P., a 29-year-old Dalit woman from Rajasthan. “We travel to worksites from really far away but have to go back home if the net does not work. Entire families depend on NREGA for sustenance. If they stop this, what will they do? How will we feed our children?”
Access to Food Subsidy
Under the National Food Security Act, state governments issue cards to households to purchase food rations at subsidized prices under the targeted public distribution system. Under this act, every ration card holder is entitled to 5 kilograms of grain per month while those in the poorest category, have a monthly entitlement of 35 kilograms of grain per card at subsidized prices.
In 2017, as part of an effort to digitize government social protection schemes, ostensibly to increase administrative efficiency, the government made it mandatory to link these ration cards with Aadhaar—the national biometric identity card. Ration shops now require internet for Aadhaar authentication before providing food supplies.
R.K. runs a public distribution shop in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan. He explained that when a customer comes, he asks for their Aadhaar or ration card number, which are authenticated by their fingerprint. “The machine uses a SIM, similar to what we insert in a mobile phone, so when there is no internet, it does not work.” During a four-day internet shutdown in July 2022, R.K. said he could not supply food rations. “There were people who came to the shop during the shutdown, but I could not do anything for them. The machine wasn’t working. If everything is going digital, and then if you are shutting down the internet, that is wrong.”
S.A., 45, lives in Ajmer district in Rajasthan and works as a daily wage laborer under NREGA. She recalled at least six days in 2022 when there was no internet:
I went to the ration shop every day for three days, but we could not get wheat. The rations are provided by each shop for a limited number of days every month. If you do not buy it within that period, you cannot get the rations for that month. Due to internet shutdown, I lost my ration for the whole month and had to feed my family by borrowing grain from others.
Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation spoke to several women in the villages of Rajsamand, Ajmer, and Bhim districts and they all said that they were unable to access food rations they were entitled to during internet shutdowns. Kesar Singh, 75, has been running a government food distribution shop in Ajmer district in Rajasthan since 1991. He said that before online authentication began with Aadhaar, the ration shops checked the ration card, and he used cardholders’ thumbprints to maintain records. He said the new system would be a boon if there was uninterrupted internet:
This system is better because earlier people would accuse us of being corrupt. But when the internet is shut down, this system collapses. People who do not have grain at home face real difficulty when the internet is shut down. If the food supply system is connected with the internet, it is not appropriate to shut it down. I get paid according to the grain I sell to the people, so during internet shutdowns, I do not earn anything either.
Collapse of E-Governance Service Providers
State governments have set up common service centers in villages, called by a different name in each state, to help people bank, pay utility bills, register for Aadhaar or other forms of government identification, and apply for and access official documents, including birth and death certificates. These centers generally function on mobile internet services, so internet shutdowns completely stall their work. These common service centers are also an important source of employment for educated local youth, who lose income when there are internet shutdowns.
“We are paid on a commission basis, so we do not earn any money when there is no internet,” a common service center operator in Sonipat district in Haryana said. “During the internet shutdown at the time of farmers protests in 2022, people came to withdraw money, but they could not do it. We face similar issues during other protests as well when the internet was shut down.”
M.B. said that the 2022 internet shutdown in response to protests over changes in military recruitment policies ironically prevented them from filing their son’s application for the military. “I went to the common service center to fill my 20-year-old son’s application online but could not do it because the internet was not working. My husband went twice to a nearby town, nine miles away, but he too, could not do it because of internet shutdown.”
Chatar Singh, a volunteer for the grassroots labor rights organization Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, which operates a common service center in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan, said: “I have a livelihood because of the internet.” He added:
This is my work. It is essential to my life. I work as an e-mitr [the name given to service providers in Rajasthan, which means e-friend] so that I can help people. Without the internet, I am unable to provide any service, even in emergencies. Plus, during internet shutdowns, we do not know when it will be restored. Right to internet is a basic right just like the right to work and right to food. This is true for many people including daily wage workers. The government also sees it as such because it pushes for Digital India. If you make everything dependent on the internet, it is also an enabling right. So, when they shut down the internet, not only do they take away my right to internet, but also my other rights such as the right to food and the right to livelihood. If the authorities must restrict internet access due to law-and-order problems, then they should do it in a limited way like only restricting social media, not the essential services.
Impact on Gig Workers
India has a booming gig economy and a June 2022 government study estimated that it employed 7.7 million workers and predicted that the workforce would increase to 23.5 million by 2030. This includes app-based services such as Uber and Ola taxi services, or food delivery riders such as Zomato and Swiggy. These jobs are completely dependent on workers’ access to internet on their smartphones. Most workers in the digital platform economy do not have fixed wages or benefits. Instead, their livelihoods depend on their ability to monitor ride or delivery requests offered to them through the apps, and how quickly they can claim these requests. This requires reliable access to the internet on their smartphones. Internet shutdowns effectively render them jobless for the period the internet is suspended, impacting their livelihoods. “We need the internet to work,” said a 26-year-old food delivery rider in Meghalaya state. Meghalaya shut down the internet for four days in November 2022. “For all those days, I had to sit at home. I am a daily wage worker and if I don’t bring in wages, we won’t have enough food to eat.”
Another food delivery rider in Shillong, Meghalaya, said that increasing instances of internet shutdowns have caused him to deplete vital financial savings and contemplate other work. “We have to dip into savings during internet shutdowns because we do not have work,” he said. “People who have families and children are even more affected. We do not have a union so there is no one to speak about our problems or negotiate for us.”
An operations manager at a food delivery digital platform in Jharkhand said that if the internet is shut down, the workers do not get paid because they earn based on orders they deliver. “It is a big deal for the company as well as for the workers. The company also loses revenue. It disturbs the entire operation,” he said.
L.C., 52, a driver for app-based taxi services in Rajasthan said sudden internet shutdowns can also affect their earnings mid-work. “Once the internet was shut down while I was in the middle of a long inter-city trip. Because of the shutdown, the payment did not appear in full and I had to bear the loss.” He added: “We also use internet for all digital payments. We don’t carry cash, so even for a cup of tea, I pay digitally to the streetside vendor. How do we even pay for diesel [gas]?”
Cost to Economy
The internet has become critical for a range of economic activities in day-to-day life. Big and small businesses alike depend on the internet for their survival. Following the BJP government’s November 2016 demonetization policy, which removed 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes as legal tender, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, increasing numbers of businesses have adopted digital payment systems, even small corner stores and businesses in the informal economy, like street vendors.
Suspending internet access therefore has enormous impacts on the entire economy. According to Top10VPN.com, which monitors internet outages and social media shutdowns globally, internet shutdowns in 2022 cost the Indian economy US$184 million and affected nearly 121 million users. This number was significantly higher for 2021 at $583 million with 59 million users affected. In 2020, internet outages cost the economy an estimated $2.8 billion, and affected 10 million internet users.
In May 2020, the Udaipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hotel Association of Udaipur city petitioned the Rajasthan High Court, arguing that internet shutdowns in the city had caused immense losses to businesses, violated the rights of millions of people, and violated the Supreme Court directions in the January 2020 Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India. Narendra Singh, chief economic officer at the Udaipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that four days of mobile internet suspension starting on June 28, 2022 in Udaipur had cost businesses $48 million:
Internet shutdowns affect every industry in a major way, especially in a place like Udaipur, which is dependent on tourism and exports. It is a major financial loss for businesses. Everything is digital in the travel industry, from making bookings, to arranging transportation for guests, all payments are digital. Those things cannot wait for another day. For instance, if a guest is checking out today, they have to check out today. And they have to be able to make payments to do it.
According to a 2016 report prepared by Deloitte for Facebook, “[t]he impacts of a temporary shutdown of the internet grow larger as a country develops and as a more mature online ecosystem emerges.” The report estimated that for the “average highly-connected country, the per-day impact of a complete internet shutdown would amount to US$23.6 million per 10 million people. For the average country with medium and low levels of connectivity, the estimated GDP impact amounts to US$6.6 million and US$0.6 million per 10 million people, respectively. According to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, internet shutdowns in India are estimated to have cost the country over $3 billion between 2012 and 2017.
V. Arbitrary Internet Shutdowns
In January 2020, in the landmark judgment Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Ghulam Nabi Azad v. Union of India, the Supreme Court laid down procedural safeguards to regulate internet shutdowns and directed the executive to:
- Publish all internet suspension orders to ensure that they are amenable to judicial review.
- Ensure that the orders are lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope.
- Ensure internet shutdowns are “temporary” and not indefinite, and that the review committee constituted under the Suspension Rules should oversee the orders every seven working days.
However, Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation found that governments in several states across India continue to flout these procedural safeguards.
There is little evidence to show that internet shutdowns have been effective in maintaining law and order. In 2021, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to present evidence that “Internet shutdown leads to better law and order outcomes with reduced risk of violence or hate speech,” the government was unable to do so. The authorities also told the committee that they had not yet conducted an official assessment on whether internet shutdowns were meeting their objectives.
In its February 2023 report on the action it had taken on the standing committee’s recommendations, the government said that the internet’s contribution “for the well-being of citizens has to be balanced with social media platforms being misused by anti-social elements requiring temporary shutdowns” based on the assessment by local authorities. The Parliamentary Standing Committee reiterated that frequent internet shutdowns without any empirical study to prove their effectiveness in controlling law and order, or civic unrest was a matter of great concern:
The Committee are perplexed with the reply of the Department and deplore the indifferent attitude of the Department to such an important aspect of the subject. The Committee, therefore, strongly urge the Department that a thorough study be commissioned by the Government of India so as to assess the impact of internet shutdown on the economy and also find out its effectiveness in dealing with public emergency and public safety.
“I have not seen any studies that show that shutting down internet actually helps in controlling law and order or shutting down terrorism,” said Karti P. Chidambaram, an opposition member of parliament, and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee that authored the report. Chidambaram believed that internet shutdowns in response to law and order challenges were a carryover from a “colonial policing” mindset. “Our immediate reaction is to impose a curfew, shut down, keep people at home,” he said.
“It is a very crude policing tactic and they have simply taken that and applied it to the internet too.”
While there can be legitimate concerns around the impact of social media on public safety—for example inflammatory material and false rumors can easily spread through the internet—restricting access would prevent those exposed to such rumors from checking or determining facts independently, according to many activists and journalists to whom Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation spoke.
Prasanth Sugathan, a lawyer at Software Freedom Law Center, which also runs an internet shutdown tracker in India, said that the shutdowns are a lazy law enforcement option:
It is an easy thing for the authorities to do. It is more of a kneejerk reaction and also allows the authorities to give the perception that they have done something to improve the situation. Whether it actually helps, there is no way to say. Most people buy that argument when it comes to law-and-order situation. 
Jan Rydzak, a researcher on technology and human rights, examined internet shutdowns in India and found that “social media and digital platforms are not critical to collective action, as mass mobilization can occur even in their absence.” However, shutting down these methods of coordination “can turn a predictable situation into one that is highly volatile, violent, and chaotic,” he concluded. “Network shutdowns in India are clearly not uniformly effective, but remain prohibitively costly when maintained.”
In February 2022, the Internet Freedom Foundation filed Right to Information requests with all 28 state governments seeking information on the frequency they had suspended internet services since January 10, 2020, when the Supreme Court ruling in Anuradha Bhasin came into effect. The aim was to examine the extent to which state governments were complying with the Supreme Court’s directions. Out of 28 states, only 15 states—Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura—provided some information in response to the Right to Information requests, and in some cases, supplied copies of orders issued under Telecom Suspension Rules. Their responses are available in the appendix.
Five states—Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Uttarakhand—would not provide any information, claiming an exemption under section 24(4) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. However, the provision allows exemption only for “intelligence and security organizations” established by state governments. Internet suspension orders do not relate to those functions of the Home Department and, in view of the ruling in Anuradha Bhasin, should be published in any case. Also, section 24(4) permits the disclosure of information pertaining to allegations of human rights violations. Since the unlawful suspension of internet services demonstrably violates human rights, this exemption would not apply.
Failure to Publish Internet Suspension Orders
Of 28 states, 18 had shut down the internet at least once after the Anuradha Bhasin judgment between January 10, 2020, and December 31, 2022, based on responses to the Right to Information requests and reporting from independent sources.
And at least 11 of those states—Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana—continued to shut down the internet without publishing suspension orders as directed by the Supreme Court. It was unclear whether Arunachal Pradesh published the suspension orders for its eight shutdowns during these three years.
Failure of Necessity and Proportionality Test
Between January 10, 2020, and December 31, 2022, Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation identified a total of 127 shutdowns in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir. Out of these, 54 were to prevent or in response to protests, 37 to prevent cheating on school examinations or exams for government jobs, 18 were in response to communal violence, and 18 were for other law and order concerns.
Rajasthan shut down the internet more than any other state during this period—at least 85 times according to the replies in response to the Right to Information requests and reporting from independent sources. However, divisional administrations of Kota, Bharatpur, Ajmer, and Bikaner did not provide any data, so therefore the actual number may be higher.
Arunachal Pradesh shut down the internet eight times, out of which five were to prevent cheating in examinations. For two shutdowns, the state government offered no information at all on the circumstances, merely stating law and order or public safety needs. And one was imposed after a protest was called by a group demanding the chief minister’s resignation.
West Bengal shut down the internet six times during this period, out of which three were to prevent cheating in examinations. One shutdown was imposed after a communal conflict while two were to prevent the spread of rumors.
An analysis of Haryana’s suspension order between September 7 to 9, 2021 in four districts during protests by farmers further illustrates how these shutdowns fail the necessity and proportionality test. The order came after protesters decided to organize a big meeting of farmers from several villages. The government did not publish the shutdown order despite Supreme Court directives although it was available on the Twitter account of a media organization. The order said the suspension was necessary to prevent “disruption of public utilities and safety, damage to public assets & amenities” and linked it to the ability of the internet to “spread inflammatory material and false rumors,” but failed to explain the threat.
In 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee, in its report examining the impact of shutdowns, concluded that “the principle of proportionality and procedure for lifting the shutdown are vague and lack clarity.” It said:
Internet shutdown cannot be a substitute for enforcing law and order. Recourse to internet shutdown should ideally be avoided and be taken sparingly only when it is absolutely necessary and expedient and that too only for a limited period of time which need to be clearly defined.
Unlawful Shutdowns in Rajasthan
In Rajasthan, the power to suspend internet services has been delegated to divisional commissioners, violating the Telecom Suspension Rules that require that only a union or state home secretary can issue the suspension orders, except in an emergency, where a joint secretary-level officer, duly authorized, can issue suspension orders subject to confirmation from the respective competent authority within 24 hours. But divisional commissioners often issue orders for 24 hours and then keep extending the shutdown by another 24 hours, effectively making the confirmation from competent authority redundant.
On September 28, 2018, the central government’s Department of Telecommunications asked the Rajasthan government to reconsider its decision to delegate these powers to divisional commissioners. Authorizing divisional commissioners has led to frequent shutdowns that rarely if ever meet the necessity or proportionality standard. There have been several instances when divisional commissioners have imposed internet shutdowns to prevent cheating in examinations or to prevent protests or criticism against the government.
An analysis of 85 shutdown orders from Rajasthan revealed that a majority 44 were to prevent protests or in response to them, at least 28 were to prevent cheating in examinations, 9 to prevent communal violence or in response to it, and 4 to address other law and order concerns.
Internet Freedom Foundation analyzed 26 internet suspension orders issued by the Udaipur divisional commissioner and 30 suspension orders issued by the Jaipur divisional commissioner between January 10, 2020, and September 25, 2021, and found that the authorities issued shutdowns frequently, followed a copy-paste template, and failed to ensure they were lawful, necessary, and proportionate.
The Udaipur authorities ordered 18 of the 26 shutdowns between September 24-28, 2020, when members of an Adivasi (tribal) community decided to hold an indefinite protest by blocking a national highway over discrimination in recruitment of teachers in government schools.
Similarly, in Jaipur, of the 30 internet shutdown orders, 25 were issued between October 30 to November 9, 2020, during protests demanding caste-based quotas in jobs and education.
Review Committees a Rubber Stamp
Review committees are currently the only safeguard to prevent authorities’ misuse of their power to suspend internet services. Consisting of high-level government officials, these committees are required to record their findings on whether internet suspension orders are lawful, necessary, and proportionate. However, orders examined by Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation show that the committees largely acquiesce to internet shutdowns by the government.
Out of 28 states, 12 have established review committees. Kerala, which has never suspended internet access, said it has not constituted a committee, while 15 states did not provide any information in response to Right to Information requests. States do not make review committee findings public and rarely ever provide them in response to Right to Information requests. Mahesh Uppal, founder and director of ComFirst, specializing in telecom and internet policy and regulation said:
There is little transparency when it comes to review committees. If you put government officials on the committee and tell them they are dealing with sensitive matters, it makes them anxious about transparency. The rules too, do not seem to require we should know about the workings of these committees. 
In Rajasthan, where many of the shutdowns clearly failed the proportionality test, the review committee does not even meet or record findings. The state government said that internet suspension orders are circulated to the responsible officers who merely provide their approval.
West Bengal shared the findings of its review committee with the Calcutta High Court during the hearing in Ashlesh Biradar v. State of West Bengal, a case challenging the legality of the shutdown order on March 7, 2022, to prevent cheating in exams. The review committee had upheld the order, saying it had a legitimate goal and was suited to achieve it. But the High Court stayed the order, saying that it did not meet the proportionality test and was not passed by a competent authority provided under the legal provisions.
Meghalaya’s review committee upheld the legality of all three shutdowns ordered since the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, until January 2023. However, the committee did not record any explanation for how it arrived at its conclusion, merely stating that it has examined the shutdown orders and various letters from governmental departments requesting suspension of internet services.
The review committee in Arunachal Pradesh, in response to the shutdown on January 12, 2022, found that it was imposed in the interest of public safety and to maintain public order because the police anticipated law and order problems during the protest. The authorities had ordered the shutdown in response to a protest called by All Nyishi Youth Association demanding the chief minister’s resignation.
VI. India’s Obligations Under International Law
Internet shutdowns undermine a number of human rights, most immediately the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Access to the internet is increasingly recognized as an indispensable enabler of a broad range of human rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other human rights instruments to which India is a party.
Article 19(2) of the ICCPR, echoing article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protects everyone’s right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers. States have the obligation to respect and ensure the right to freedom of expression without distinction of any kind.
Under ICCPR article 19(3), restrictions on the right to freedom of expression are only permissible when they are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specified national security or other threat. The restriction must also be the least intrusive option available and must not impair the essence of the right. Restrictions must not be discriminatory and the onus to show that restrictions comply with these conditions is on the State seeking to restrict rights.
The Indian authorities invoke specific laws, such as the Telegraph Act and the Telecom Suspension Rules, to order internet shutdowns. However, these laws are vague or overly broad, and fail to meet the requirements of article 19(3). Given their indiscriminate and widespread impacts, internet shutdowns also very rarely meet the proportionality requirement.
Any form of internet shutdown impairs countless legitimate and beneficial activities and has a negative impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Under article 4 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, any limitations to the enjoyment of those rights are permissible only as far as they are “compatible with the nature of those rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his August 2021 report “Our Common Agenda,” noted that it might be time to reinforce universal access to the internet by 2030 as a human right. He added that the United Nations would work with governments, business and civil society to find alternatives to disruptive blanket internet shutdowns.
Over the years, independent UN human rights experts and bodies have repeatedly denounced shutdowns. A UN Human Rights Council resolution in 2016 unequivocally condemned internet shutdowns and called upon all states to refrain from and cease such measures. In the 2020 Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN secretary-general stressed that “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by UN human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
The UN high commissioner for human rights has repeatedly expressed concerns about internet shutdowns and has urged governments to avoid implementing such measures, in particular in response to public assemblies. The UN Human Rights Committee has taken a very critical stance on shutdowns; in its general comment No. 34 on the right to freedom of expression, the committee indicated that permissible restrictions generally should be content-specific; generic bans on the operation of certain sites and systems are not compatible with ICCPR article 19(3). It also emphasized that states parties to the ICCPR are prohibited from blocking or hindering internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies. Various UN special procedure mandate holders have also urged states to refrain from internet shutdowns, emphasizing their incompatibility with international human rights law.
Other Relevant International Frameworks
Regional human rights bodies have also emphasized that internet shutdowns infringe upon human rights norms. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called upon states not to engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet or other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court ruled that shutting down internet access is a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The Council of Europe called on states to recognize “in law and in practice that disconnecting individuals from the internet, as a general rule, represents a disproportionate restriction of the right to freedom of expression,” as provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has held that anticipatory shutdowns amount to prior restraint and require a legal framework ensuring tight control over the scope of the ban and to prevent abuse.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 9 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also includes a commitment to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and to strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.
In April 2022, 67 countries—not including India—signed “A Declaration for the Future of the Internet” to keep the internet “open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure.”  The declaration includes a commitment to “protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people and promote a global internet that advances the free flow of information.” At the launch, the US government expressed concern that, “Globally, we are witnessing a trend of rising digital authoritarianism where some states act to repress freedom of expression, censor independent news sites, interfere with elections, promote disinformation, and deny their citizens other human rights.”
On March 29, 2023, at the US Summit for Democracy, a global declaration was released that India endorsed. However, of the 74 countries that have endorsed the declaration, India alone adopted a reservation on a paragraph dedicated to promoting access to the internet and, among other things, to “prevent[ing] government-imposed Internet disruptions and restrictions online that violate international human rights obligations.”
To the Indian Parliament
- Pass a resolution calling upon the Ministry of Communications to implement the recommendations made in the 2021 Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Communications and Information Technology on the impact of internet shutdowns.
- Reject the Telecommunications Bill, 2022, which contravenes the Supreme Court judgment in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and expands the powers of government officials to impose network disruptions at their discretion, without any meaningful safeguards, limitations, or remedies to ensure transparency, accountability, and redress.
- Pass a resolution calling on the central and state governments to submit a public annual report to the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology to explain the harm prevented by each internet shutdown.
To the Central and State Governments
- End broad, indiscriminate, and indefinite internet shutdowns. Ensure any restriction on internet access is lawful, necessary, proportionate, and limited in scope, and ensure compliance with the Supreme Court directives in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India.
- Review and revise the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, after consultation with civil society groups, digital rights experts, and other stakeholders to bring the rules in line with international legal standards.
- Amend to include independent judicial oversight of every internet suspension order and require suspension orders to receive court approval before taking effect.
- Put in place safeguards to ensure suspension orders cannot be used as a preventive measure to violate the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
- Include a robust accountability mechanism, which includes independent members of civil society, digital rights experts, and retired judges, to review the legality of each suspension order.
- Publish every internet suspension order with details on the reasons for shutdown, duration of the shutdown, legal provision under which the internet was suspended, and what efforts were made to ensure the suspension was necessary and proportionate.
- Publish orders before any internet suspension is carried out, to allow citizens ample time to prepare and make arrangements.
- Ensure authorities who order illegal, arbitrary, unnecessary, or disproportionate internet shutdowns are held accountable.
- Develop mechanisms to ensure that all people have access to social protection systems and social security programs, including NREGA and the administration of the National Food Security Act, regardless of internet access. Ensure that no one loses this access when the internet is severed or otherwise unavailable.
- Ensure internet suspensions are only ordered by the union or state home secretary as stipulated in the Telecom Suspension Rules. The Rajasthan state government should end the practice of divisional commissioners ordering internet shutdowns.
- Commission an independent study on the impact of internet shutdowns on people’s basic rights, denial of access to essential public goods and services, whether shutdowns meet their stated objectives and their effectiveness in dealing with matters of public emergency or public safety, and economic losses stemming from the suspensions.
- Establish a national-level database for all internet shutdowns in the country, which should include the number of times suspension has been ordered, reasons, duration, legal provisions used, decision of the competent authority, and decision of the Review Committees. The database should be available publicly to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Create Review committees in each state and union territory that meet to review shutdown orders.
- Ensure independent functioning of the Review Committees by including members of civil society such as experts on technology and human rights and retired judges.
- Empower Review Committees to overturn unlawful suspension orders and to direct restoration of internet services.
- Record findings in writing, including whether the internet shutdowns were lawful, necessary, and proportionate, and document the methodology and reasoning for the committee’s conclusions.
- Make all Review Committee findings public to ensure transparency and accountability.
To Telecom Service Providers
- Send prior notification to all subscribers ahead of carrying out a suspension order.
- Uphold United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and adopt mitigation and transparency measures regarding shutdowns.
- Explore all lawful measures to challenge the implementation of internet shutdowns.
- Collaborate with local and international stakeholders to mitigate harms.
To the UN and Foreign Governments, including G20 Members
- Encourage the Indian government to end broad, indiscriminate internet shutdowns and uphold its commitments to protect the rights of freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensure a free and independent media landscape.
- Hold India to account as a signatory to the G7 Resilient Democracies statement for ensuring “an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet.”
- Provide support to local civil society groups and digital rights organizations to undertake periodic quantitative and qualitative studies on internet shutdowns, impact on human rights, efficacy of shutdowns, and access to justice for affected populations.
- Support initiatives to increase awareness of how internet shutdowns deny access to basic rights and engage both governments and civil society in prevention and response efforts.
- Support specialized police training in crowd control methods according to international standards alongside existing programs for counterterrorism training.
- Encourage India to invite the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression for a fact-finding visit.
This report was jointly researched by Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation. The report was written by Jayshree Bajoria, associate director in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch and edited by Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Tom Porteous, deputy program director, provided legal and programmatic review. Specialist reviews were provided by senior researchers Tamir Israel and Amos Toh in the Technology and Human Rights Division, researcher Matt McConnell in the Economic Justice and Rights Division, researcher Hye Jung Han in the Children’s Rights Division, and Kayum Ahmed, special advisor on Health and Human Rights. Krishnesh Bapat, associate litigation counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation assisted in the research.
Expert reviews were also provided by Apar Gupta, executive director, and Tanmay Singh, senior litigation counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation. Gyan Tripathi, a policy trainee at Internet Freedom Foundation, provided research support. Gayatri Malhotra, associate litigation counsel, and Bhavya Singh, litigation intern at Internet Freedom Foundation, helped to compile the appendix on internet shutdowns.
Travis Carr, publications officer, produced the graphics and Maggie Svoboda, photo editor, provided support for the selection and layout of the photographs in the report. Production assistance was provided by Robbie Newton, coordinator in the Asia Division. The report was prepared for publication by Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.
Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation acknowledge the valuable assistance of several Indian rights activists and organizations, who provided input into and support for this research and analysis. They include but are not limited to Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan; Software Freedom Law Center in New Delhi; lawyers Abhinav Sekhri and Shailesh Poddar; G.N. Var, President, Private School Associate of Jammu and Kashmir; and technology researchers Jade Lyngdoh, Rohini Lakshane, Gurshabad Grover, and Karan Saini.
We are particularly indebted to external reviewers Usha Ramanathan, an independent researcher working on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights, Vrinda Bhandari, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, and Gautam Bhatia, an Indian constitutional lawyer, for providing valuable input and feedback on the report.
Above all, we would like to thank all the interviewees, civil society members, journalists, researchers, lawyers, and activists who shared their experiences and contributed to the report. They cannot be named to protect their safety, but their work and support has been invaluable.