#AceNewsReport – May.08: India is in the middle of the world’s largest election, with more than 900 million people eligible to vote between April 11 and May 19: Despite this grand exercise in political freedom, some Indians are being denied access to the internet for days at a time as they prepare to cast their ballots: Since voting began last month, shutdowns of mobile internet have been reported in the Indian states of Rajasthan, West Bengal and Indian-administered Kashmir, according to the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), adding to more than 30 recorded already in 2019.
According to the SFLC, on April 18, authorities in the Srinagar and Udhampur districts of Indian-administered Kashmir suspended mobile internet access during polling “as a precautionary measure to maintain law and order.” ……….Law and order was also cited as a reason for cutting off mobile internet a couple of days later in Rajasthan’s Sikar district. The majority of Indians access the internet via mobile devices.
This is in keeping with a massive uptick in internet shutdowns — both mobile and full access — in India in recent years: The number has risen from 79 in 2017 to more than 130 last year.
Rakesh Maheshwari, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, said that internet shutdowns were normally carried out by state authorities due to “law and order scenarios.” Maheshwari did not respond to questions about whether the national government has issued guidance about maintaining internet access during the election period.
The trend raises major concerns about India’s commitment to internet freedom, particularly during an election when people’s access to information is even more important than usual:
“Internet shutdowns disrupt daily lives of residents of an affected area. They pose as a barrier to the exercise of human rights,” said SFLC analyst Sukarn Singh Maini. “A functional democracy depends on the ability of citizens to exercise their freedom of speech, including the ability to freely access information.”
Disruptions can also cause economic damage. According to a 2018 study by the Delhi-based think tank ICRIER, a combined 16,315 hours of internet shutdowns between 2012 and 2017 cost the India economy upwards of $3 billion.
“As our lives move online, businesses, educational institutions and the government itself has grown to rely on the internet for everyday tasks,” Maini said. “Students faced with deadlines for filling an online application to pursue higher education have sometimes found themselves unable to fill such an application because of an ongoing internet shutdown.”
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