Internet and text messaging services will remain suspended on Friday in several parts of the country after a day of violent protests against the new citizenship law, which has roiled India for more than a week now.
As thousands of protesters held rallies across 56 cities in 24 states and Union territories on Thursday to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), mobile services, voice calls and internet services were shut down in parts of the country.
The internet shutdown will continue in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada districts in Karnataka, Assam and Meghalaya on Friday even as services were restored in Delhi around 1.30pm on Thursday.
Mobile internet services in Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada districts were suspended on Thursday night for the next 48 hours after two people were killed in firing by police during violent protests in Mangaluru.
According to a government notification, the decision to suspend internet was taken in order to prevent misuse of social media platforms to disturb peace and tranquillity, and for maintaining law-and-order.
Internet services were suspended in 10 districts, including Lucknow following Thursday’s large-scale violence as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act spun out of control in old city areas and the city centre in the state capital and in 9 other districts.
In an order UP Home department official asked telecom operators and internet service providers for temporary suspension of mobile phone internet services to avoid possible misuse of WhatsApp, YouTube, etc where people are excessively sharing messages, photos, videos to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the city.
Ghaziabad’s district magistrate has ordered all the telecom and other internet service providers to block internet services in the district till 10pm on Friday following the violent protests across India.
An official said mobile internet services will be blocked in Meghalaya till 5pm on Friday even as curfew which was clamped in parts of Shillong was relaxed for 13 hours on Thursday.
As part of an unprecedented crackdown in large parts of Delhi on Thursday, restrictions led to people going without mobile phone services for four hours in the Capital.
Police also ordered four major service providers — Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, Reliance Jio and MTNL — to switch off the internet, messaging and voice call services in parts of north, central, north-east and south-east Delhi at 9am.
This is the first time that the measure – currently enforced across some parts in five states, especially in Assam – was implemented in the city. Services were restored after 1pm.
Authorities also prohibited the gathering of four or more persons in a given place as a riot-prevention measure under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in many parts of the country, including Delhi, several cities of Karnataka such as Bengaluru, Mangaluru, and Mysuru, as well as all the districts of Assam.
India reported more than 100 internet shutdowns in 2018, according to an annual study of Freedom House, a US-based non-profit research organisation. The study on the internet and digital media freedom was conducted in over 65 countries, which cover 87% of the world’s internet users.
Police and administrative authorities have cited protests and other security reasons to routinely snap the internet in India.
The Kashmir Valley has remained under an internet shutdown since August 4. The shutdown was imposed hours ahead of the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir special status.
Internet and phone lines were snapped ahead of Republic Day celebrations in 2010 in one of the first reported shutdowns in the Valley. Kashmir also holds the record for the longest shutdown when the internet was snapped for 133 days after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. The current shutdown, with 122 days and counting, is the second-longest.
The 100-day blackout in Darjeeling during the Gorkha agitation in 2016 is the third-longest internet shutdown in India.
Opposition parties called Thursday a second Emergency.
“This government has no right to shut down colleges, telephones & the Internet, to halt metro trains and to impose Section144 to suppress India’s voice & prevent peaceful protests. To do so is an insult to India’s soul,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded the Centre withdraw the law.
“Law & order situation is deteriorating across the country with each passing day, which is a cause of extreme worry…,” he said.
Last week, the government pushed through Parliament the CAA, which fast-tracks the process of citizenship for refugees from Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, Christian and Jain faiths who fled Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh because of religious persecution and entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
Opposition parties and civil society say the law is unconstitutional because it links faith to citizenship and discriminatory because it omits Islam.