A year ago, when people were glued to their phones to track COVID-19 cases every minute and adapted to the new normal of coffee trends and Zoom weddings, a section of Indians was plunged into digital darkness. As it turns out, the world’s largest democracy is also a world leader in imposing internet shutdowns, especially to muzzle political dissent.
A scathing report by global non-profit Access Now reveals that a lion’s share of the shutdowns across the world in 2020 was imposed by India. The report, ‘Shattered dreams and lost opportunities’, documented 155 instances of digital blackouts in 29 countries. Of these 155 cases, India accounted for 109! Yemen and Ethiopia followed far behind, with six and four shutdowns respectively.
In India, the official rationale provided for imposing the blackouts ranged from ‘precautionary measure’ and ‘impending security incident’ to stopping ‘anti-national elements from sharing false information’. But the report suggests that, in a vast majority of cases, the shutdowns were to hide political instability. In the rest of the world, they were largely a response to violence in conflict-ridden areas.
India also topped the charts when it came to restricting the internet before, during and after elections.
Another report released by Top10 VPN in January 2021 stated that India and Myanmar were responsible for the longest shutdowns that were imposed in 2019 and were continuing in 2020. Such disruptions across the world cost the global economy $4.01 billion and India paid the highest price at more than $2.8 billion.
Will these cost India its digital-powerhouse dream too?