“Those living in villages have no idea about the internet shutdown. It gets difficult for us”

Internet services were suspended in around 50 districts in seven states after protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill turned violent. Those living in rural India have suffered the most

Daya Sagar
| Updated: December 27th, 2019

On December 23, Saroja Devi, 62, a resident of Gosaiganj, which is about 25 kms from Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, arrived in the capital city to make changes in an Aadhar card. She reached a Common Service Center to update the address in her pregnant daughter-in-law’s Aadhar card so that she could avail of the benefits of various government schemes. But she went back annoyed as her work could not to completed owing to the Internet shutdown. 

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was passed by the Parliament recently, has triggered violent protests all over the country. As a precautionary measure, internet services were suspended in around 50 districts in seven states of the country. These included 22 districts in Uttar Pradesh, 11 districts in West Bengal and 10 districts in Assam and some districts in Karnataka, Gujarat and Delhi.

While those living in cities could not use many app-based facilities, it’s the rural diaspora that has suffered the most.

“The villagers have no idea about the internet shutdown. It’s difficult to make them understand various problems that we are facing because of the shutdown. They think that we are being careless. Now how to make them understand about the shutdown? It’s been five days that the net is not working,” said Anil Kumar, who heads the CSC.

Many people living in rural areas failed to understand why they were not able to credit or debit cash in the banks. Vishesh Verma, who lives in Bhirwa village near Lucknow, said: “There was no internet in Lucknow for five days. My father had to buy fertilizers and insecticides. He went to withdraw money from the bank, but because of this internet shutdown, he couldn’t. Our work got affected due to this shutdown.”

Internet services were also suspended in the Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh after the protests turned violent. Sanjay Saxena, who is a postmaster in Naveen Krishi Mandi in Meerut, said: “Farmers here used to deposit their daily earnings into their bank accounts. But because of the internet shutdown, the server stopped working for five days. Finally, when the service resumed, there is a long queue in the bank. It is becoming difficult for us to manage so many people,” said Sanjay Saxena.

Deepak Prasad, 24, a resident of Gorakhpur, works in a private firm in Lucknow. His mother has not been keeping well. He would often talk to his mother through video calls to keep a check on her health. But, because of the internet shutdown, he wasn’t able to contact his mother.

India tops in Internet shutdown

According to a report by Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), an organisation that provides pro-bono legal services to developers has reported 93 cases of internet shutdown in India in 2019. As per a Forbes report, India leads the world in terms of internet shutdown cases.

According to the SFLC report ‘Living in Digital Darkness,’ 134 internet shutdown cases, highest globally, were reported in India in 2018. After Article 370 was abolished, internet services were suspended in Kashmir. The net services remained suspended from August to November for around 133 days.

The Internet shutdown has affected the economy. According to an Indian Council for Research on International Economic (ICRIE), the Indian economy has suffered losses worth Rs 21,584 crore because of internet shutdown between 2012 and 2017. No data for 2018 and 2019 have been released so far. Sundar Krishnan, executive director of SFLC, told Rural Connection that in this era of digital India, we are heading towards digital darkness. “This is so when we are considering this long-term internet shutdown in Kashmir as one shutdown. Had that not been the case, then this number would have been even more.”

(Chandrakant Mishra from Gosaiganj in Lucknow and Mohit Saini from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh have contributed to this story)