India’s Persistent Internet Shutdowns: A Double-Edged Sword

Political unrest and sectarian violence prompt frequent internet blackouts in India, leaving millions disconnected and raising concerns about freedom of information and economic impact.

India, a global leader in technological advancements, has also gained notoriety for its frequent internet shutdowns. Despite being home to the world’s largest biometric ID database and a pioneering digital payment system, the Indian government often resorts to severing internet services during times of political unrest or sectarian violence. While authorities argue that these shutdowns are necessary to combat disinformation, critics argue that they disproportionately affect the poorest and hinder economic growth. This article explores the impact of India’s internet shutdowns on communication, information access, and economic stability.

The First Tool in the Toolkit

Internet shutdowns have become the go-to solution for Indian authorities when faced with unrest. According to online freedom monitors Access Now, India led the world in internet shutdowns for five consecutive years, accounting for 84 out of 187 recorded shutdowns in 2022. The reasons cited for these shutdowns range from protests to preventing cheating during exams. However, activists argue that shutting down the internet stifles dissenting voices and fails to consider the broader impact on society.

Disproportionate Impact on the Poorest

Human Rights Watch highlights that internet shutdowns disproportionately affect the poorest segments of society, who rely on online social support systems provided by the government. The organization’s report states that nearly 121 million people were affected by shutdowns in 2022. In a country where the government has pushed for digital inclusion through initiatives like “Digital India,” the use of internet shutdowns as a default policing measure contradicts the goal of making the internet a fundamental aspect of daily life.

Economic Consequences

Internet shutdowns also have severe economic consequences. In Indian-administered Kashmir, a 500-day blackout in 2019 and 2020 resulted in an estimated loss of over $2.4 billion to the local economy. From small-scale vegetable sellers to larger businesses reliant on online platforms for payments, the loss of internet access hampers trade and economic stability. Individuals like Mark Fanai, who had to relocate due to the prolonged blackout, exemplify the struggles faced by many who depend on the internet for their livelihoods.

Hindrance to Journalism

Journalists also bear the brunt of internet shutdowns, hindering their ability to report on events accurately and in a timely manner. When authorities shut down the internet during protests in Maharashtra state, journalist Vinod Jire had to leave the district to file his story. The lack of internet access not only restricts journalists’ ability to gather information but also undermines the public’s right to receive accurate and timely news.

The Government’s Perspective

The Indian government argues that internet shutdowns are necessary to curb disinformation and prevent the spread of rumors on social media and messaging platforms. External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has dismissed criticisms, stating that the focus on internet cuts detracts from the loss of human lives during times of unrest. However, advocates for internet access point out that disinformation can still spread offline and that fact-checking primarily occurs online.

Addressing the Root Causes

While internet shutdowns may temporarily slow the spread of hate speech and misinformation, they do not address the root causes of conflict. In Manipur, tribal leader Ginza Vualzong emphasizes that the internet ban fails to resolve the underlying issues that divide communities along ethnic lines. Instead, it perpetuates a cycle of violence and division.


India’s frequent internet shutdowns have far-reaching consequences, affecting communication, information access, and economic stability. While authorities argue that these measures are necessary to combat disinformation and maintain law and order, the shutdowns disproportionately impact the poorest and hinder economic growth. Critics emphasize the need to find alternative solutions that address the root causes of conflict while preserving freedom of information and promoting economic security. As India continues to navigate the challenges of a digital age, striking a balance between security concerns and the rights of its citizens remains a pressing issue.






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