India's Internet Shutdowns

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“The main element of “Digital India” is a digitally literate India, a capable India, a prosperous India...” 

This is the vision of “Digital India.” 

The "Digital India” project aims to use technology to deliver government programs and public services. 

The internet is key to making this happen. 

But Digital India faces one big challenge...Internet shutdowns. 

Since 2018, India has shut down the internet more than any other country in the world. 

State authorities have repeatedly cut off mobile internet. 

These shutdowns impact most of the population in the affected area since 96% of India’s internet subscribers access it on their phones. 

Without the internet, people can’t reach government food and work programs or conduct activities like banking. 

“Digital India has become a way of life particularly for the poor, marginalized and for those in government.”  

But it is poor and marginalized communities who are the most harmed during internet shutdowns, when government services get disrupted, affecting their human rights. 

  1. Right to food 

People can’t receive subsidized food grains if they are unable to authenticate their biometric IDs using the internet. 

Internet blackouts in rural areas mean families could go hungry for days. 

  1. Rights to employment and social security 

The government’s rural income security program, NREGA, requires workers to mark their attendance online. 

These women laborers have to upload a geo-tagged photo online to prove that they have showed up for work. 

“Last month, we worked for 15 days but we only got paid for 12 days because the [inter]net did not work.” Community supervisor, NREGA 

Indian authorities say they shut down the internet to maintain public order.  

But we found authorities use internet shutdowns for various other reasons, including to curb peaceful protests and prevent cheating on school exams. 

The government’s longest imposed blackout lasted for 550 days in Jammu and Kashmir. 

There’s no evidence that internet shutdowns help maintain law and order.  

Instead, they undermine free expression and act as a form of collective punishment that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. 

Indian authorities should end the shutdowns. 

They should ensure that everyone has equal access to public services and social protection programs, even when the internet is not available. 

Digital India should ensure that technology protects people’s livelihoods and rights.   

(New Delhi, June 14, 2023) – India’s arbitrary internet shutdowns disproportionately hurt communities living with poverty that depend on the government’s social protection measures for food and livelihoods, Human Rights Watch and Internet Freedom Foundation said in a report released today. Since 2018, India has shut down the internet more than any other country in the world, undermining the government’s flagship “Digital India” program, which has made regular internet access vital for delivering key public services.

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