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PM Modi’s Digital India has seen the highest internet shutdowns worldwide: A brief history

On the evening of November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the existing 500 and 1000 rupee currency notes will no longer be a legal tender in the country and will be replaced with new currency notes — 500 and 2000 — in the coming months. The primary reason behind the demonetisation, as mentioned during the same speech, was to curtail the ‘black’ money and reduce illicit transactions in the Indian economy — seemingly to boost it — however, the brunt was borne by those who had to stand in long queues at the banks and ATMs. Three years since the announcement, our economy has taken a hit with growth rates dwindling down to a six-year low.

Unsurprisingly — as is the case with the Modi-led NDA government — the narrative was shifted from catching illicit currency holders to transforming the Indian economy from a fiat currency-based to a digital one. Mobile payment apps such as Paytm, Phonepe, Freecharge, MobiKwik, among others, saw a boost in popularity and a surge in business.

Reliance Jio also came into the market during the same time and disrupted the telecom industry with loads of freebies for the consumer, albeit in lieu of data — Aadhaar. Unarguably, Jio was instrumental in bringing the internet to a larger group of people and making India one of the largest internet consumer markets around the globe.

However, the idea of a digital India is marred by the sheer numbers of internet shutdowns in the country. In the last three years alone — since Digital India was propelled by the government — India has seen 200 preventive and 106 reactive internet shutdowns.

Digital India is a bed of roses laced with thorns

Internet services suspended in Kashmir as government revokes Article 370

Kashmir: 144 days and counting

On August 4, 2019, Kashmir’s special status with Article 370 and 35(A) was revoked, and a complete internet shutdown was imposed. Two weeks later, landline services and 2G internet, which is a farce, were restored.

It has been 144 days since the internet shutdown in Kashmir began as a preventive measure, making it the most prolonged internet shutdown in India. The government hasn’t made clear as to when the internet will be restored in the area. Meanwhile, all the businesses that require the internet to function remain shut.

At the time of the announcement of demonetisation, the internet was shut down in Kashmir and would remain so till 11 days after. The longest internet shutdown at the time spanned for 133 days between July 8, 2016, and November 19, 2016.

Darjeeling: 100 days sans internet

Between June 18, 2017, and September 27 2017, Darjeeling witnessed one of the longest internet shutdowns in the country that lasted for 100 days. Though initially only mobile internet services were affected, two days later the broadband internet services were cut off too.

December 2019: Anti-CAA protests bring shutdowns

The NDA government successfully passed the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019, which was met with demonstrations nationwide. To curb mobilisation of protesters, internet shutdowns were reported in various regions of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan as well as areas of India’s capital, New Delhi. SMS services were suspended in most cases too.

In Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, internet services were shut down on December 10, followed by Assam on December 11, 2019. Parts of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, among other states, witnessed shutdowns as early as December 14 as the protests intensified.

In addition to the ongoing internet shutdown in Kashmir, the following cities from the states mentioned above were subject to internet shutdowns, which lasted from 24 hours to 72 hours in most cases, with exceptions in UP, Assam and Meghalaya, where the shutdown lasted for more than a week and still continues in certain places.

  • Aligarh
  • Meerut
  • Saharanpur
  • Lucknow
  • Hardoi
  • Bijnor
  • Bareilly
  • Kanpur
  • Mau
  • Sambhal
  • Prayagraj
  • Ghaziabad
  • Muzaffarnagar
  • Hapur
  • Moradabad
  • Unnao
  • Agra
  • Sultanpur
  • Bagpat
  • Bulandshahr
  • Azamgarh
  • Firozabad
  • Pilibhit
  • Imphal
  • Lakhimpur
  • Tinsukia
  • Dhemaji
  • Dibrugarh
  • Charaideo
  • Sivasnagar
  • Jorhat
  • Golaghat
  • Kamrup
  • Malda
  • Murshidabad
  • Howrah
  • Uttar Dinajpur
  • North and South 24 Parganas
  • Mangaluru
  • Dakshina Kannada district
  • Jabalpur
  • Bhopal
  • Indore
  • Jaipur

No country for Digital economy

With a massive number of internet shutdowns country-wide, businesses reliant on the internet take a hit. Internet shutdowns harm the prospect of a fully functional and thriving digital India and its digital economy as the lack of internet connectivity means that none of the digital payment wallets or POS (debit/credit card machines) is functional — making people solely reliant on fiat currency for transactions.

According to a report by The Indian Express, internet shutdown over the past five years have cost the economy over $3 billion, as estimated by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.

While the direct impact is felt on the businesses operating out of places with internet shutdowns, an indirect effect is also felt on the businesses connected with or reliant on the directly impacted companies or individuals.

While internet shutdowns have been imposed primarily to counter the spread of false news during communal, religious or caste-based tensions among the citizens in a particular city, they have also been used by the Indian government to curb dissent, as has been seen in the recent case of CAA-NRC protests nationwide.

Whatever the reason may be, the internet is a fast-paced world and to be unavailable for even a few minutes can cost businesses significantly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a digital India seems distant with all these internet shutdowns countrywide.

A brief history of shutdowns between 2016-2018

Source: Internetshutdowns.in (via SFLC.in) | Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 | Edited for correction of the year 2018.

In addition to the aforementioned, a research paper titled Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India by Software Freedom Law Center, listed the internet shutdowns in India between 2013 and 2018. Below, we’ve listed instances of internet shutdowns reported since after the idea of a digital India was first floated by the NDA government soon after the demonetisation till April 2018.

  • December 8, 2016: Internet shutdown in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • December 13, December 19 and December 27-29: Internet shutdown in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
  • December 18, 2016 – December 30: Mobile internet shutdown in East and West Imphal, Manipur.
  • January 19 – February 20, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Wokha and Phek, Nagaland, on January 19. Suspension expanded to cover the entire state on January 30 and resumed on February 2017.
  • January 29, 2017: Mobile internet suspended for an unspecified number of days in Jhajjar, Haryana. The suspension was expanded to Rohtak, Bhiwani, Hisar, Sonipat and Panipat on January 31, 2017.
  • February 17 – February 19, 2017: Mobile internet services shut down in Jhajjar, Panipat, Sonipat, Hisar, Rohtak, Jind and Bhiwani (Haryana).
  • February 25 – February 26, 2017: Internet shutdown in Rohtak and Sonipat (Haryana).
  • March 18 – March 19, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Rohtak, Sonipat, Jhajjar, Bhiwani, Panipat, Hisar, Kaithal, Charkhi Dadri, Fatehabad, Jind and Sirsa (Haryana).
  • March 31 – April 6, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Sikar, Rajasthan.
  • April 8 – April 13, 2017: Internet services (both mobile and broadband) suspended in Srinagar, Budgam and Gandarbal (Jammu and Kashmir) on April 8. The suspension is expanded to cover the entire Kashmir valley on April 9. Broadband services restored on April 11 and mobile services on April 13.
  • April 9 – April 11, 2017: Internet suspended in Bhadrak, Odisha.
  • April 17 – April 29, 2017: Internet shutdown in the Kashmir valley. Social media websites blocked or restricted.
  • April 18 – April 19, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Udaipur and Fatehnagar (Rajasthan).
  • April 19 – April 21, 2017: Internet services suspended in Kendrapara, Odisha.
  • April 24 – May 3, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
  • May 27 – June 2, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in the Kashmir valley.
  • June 5, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Nashik, Maharashtra.
  • June 6 – June 11, 2017: Internet shutdown in Mandsaur, Ratlam, Ujjain, Neemuh, Indore, Dewas (Madhya Pradesh).
  • June 7, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in the Kashmir valley.
  • June 8 – June 12, 2017: Internet shutdown in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
  • June 16 – June 19, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in the Kashmir valley.
  • June 30 – July 5, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Churu and Nagaur (Rajasthan).
  • July 1: Mobile internet suspended in the Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • July 5 – July 10, 2017: Internet shutdown in Baduria and Basirhat of the North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal.
  • July 6 – July 12, 2017: Mobile and broadband internet services shutdown in Kashmir valley.
  • July 11 – July 14, 2017: Internet shutdown in Nagaur, Bikaner, Churu and Sikar (Rajasthan).
  • July 14 – July 18, 2017: Internet shutdown in Morbi, Surendranagar (Gujarat).
  • July 16: Mobile internet suspended in the Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • July 18, 2017: Broadband and mobile internet shutdown in Kashmir valley.
  • July 20, 2017: Internet shutdown in Agartala followed by all other districts in Tripura.
  • July 21 – July 25, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • July 30, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • August 1 and 2, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in the Kashmir valley.
  • August 5, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • August 7, 2017: Internet shutdown in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • August 13, 2017: Internet services shutdown in Shopian and Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • August 15, 2017: Mobile and broadband services suspended in Kashmir valley.
  • August 16, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • August 24 – August 29, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in all districts of Punjab and Haryana. The suspension was carried forward in the sensitive areas of Haryana till August 30, 2017.
  • August 24 – August 26: Mobile internet services suspended in Chandigarh. Internet was also suspended in Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh (Rajasthan) on August 25 – 26.
  • August 26, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • September 2, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Shopian and Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • September 4, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • September 5, 2017: Internet shutdown in Madhepura, Supaul, Saharsa, Purnia, Araria, Kishanganj and Katihar (Bihar).
  • September 8, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Sirsa, Harayana.
  • September 9, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in several parts of Jaipur, Rajasthan.
  • September 9, 2017: Internet shutdown in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • September 11, 2017: Mobile and broadband internet services suspended in Sikar, Rajasthan.
  • September 11, 2017: Mobile internet shutdown in Anantnag and Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • September 21 – September 25, 2017: Internet shutdown in Agartala, Tripura.
  • September 26, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • September 28 – November 5, 2017: Internet shutdown in Nawada, Bihar.
  • October 1 – October 5, 2017: Internet shutdown in Arwal, Bhojpur, Jamui, Katihar, Sitamarhi and West Champaran (Bihar).
  • November 2, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • November 11, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Jind, Hansi, Bhiwani, Hisar, Fatehabad, Karnal, Panipat, Kaithal, Rohtak, Sonipat, Jhajjar, Bhiwani and Charkhi Dadri (Haryana).
  • December 3, 2017: Internet shutdown in Bhilwara, Chittorgarh and Nimbahera (Rajasthan).
  • December 11, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Sopore, Baramulla, Handwara and Kupwara (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • December 13: Mobile internet services suspended in Udaipur and Rajsamand (Rajasthan).
  • December 16, 2017: Internet shutdown in Adilabad, Telangana.
  • December 17, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • December 18, 2017: Mobile internet services suspended in Pulwama and Shopian (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • December 26, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • December 31, 2017: Mobile internet suspended in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • January 1 and 2, 2018: Mobile internet suspended in Bundi, Rajasthan.
  • January 3, 2018: Mobile internet suspended in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
  • January 4, 2018: Internet shutdown in Kolhapur, Maharashtra.
  • January 8, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Badgam, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • January 9, 2018 – January 11, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Anantnag and Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • January 24, 2018: Mobile internet services shutdown in Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir) for an unspecified period. Rest of Kashmir’s internet restricted to 128Kbps.
  • January 25 – January 26, 2018: Mobile internet services shutdown in Anantnag, Bandipore, Badgam, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Kupwara, Pulwama and Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • January 27 and 28, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh.
  • February 3 and 4, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Kupwara, Sopore and Baramulla (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • February 16, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh.
  • February 18, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Tonk, Rajasthan.
  • March 1, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Bandipore, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • March 4, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Shopian and Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • March 8, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • March 12, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Srinagar and Anantnag, Jammy and Kashmir.
  • March 17, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Bhagalpur, Bihar.
  • March 18, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Tonk, Rajasthan.
  • March 24, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Kulgam and Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • March 24, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Bhadrak, Odisha.
  • March 25, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Baramulla and Badgam (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • March 26, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Aurangabad, Bihar.
  • March 28, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Asansol and Raniganj (West Bengal).
  • March 29, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Samstipur, Bihar.
  • March 30, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Bundi, Rajasthan.
  • March 30, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Nawada, Bihar.
  • March 31, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Jaitran, Rajasthan.
  • April 1 and 2, 2018: Mobile internet and SMS services suspended in all districts of Punjab.
  • April 1, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in south Kashmir valley.
  • April 2, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Jalore, Barmer, Sikar, Alwar, Ahore, Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh (Rajasthan).
  • April 2, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Gwalior, Morena and Bhind (Madhya Pradesh).
  • April 3, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam, Anantnag and Ganderbal (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • April 3, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Meerut, Agra, Bareilly and Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh).
  • April 9, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Gwalior, Bhind, Morena and Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh).
  • April 9, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Saharanpur and Hapur (Uttar Pradesh).
  • April 10, 2018: Mobile internet suspended in Jaipur and Bharatpur (Rajasthan).
  • April 11, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Anantnag and Kulgam (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • April 14 and 15, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh).
  • April 14 – April 16, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar (Punjab).
  • April 17, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Kathua, Samba and Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • April 20, 2018: Mobile internet services suspended in Rajouri, Srinagar, Kulgam, Pulwama and Islamabad (Jammu and Kashmir).
  • April 24, 2018: Mobile internet service services suspended in Tral and Awantipore areas of Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir.

According to Statista, India had the highest number of internet shutdowns at 154 between January 2016 and May 2018, followed by 18 in Pakistan, eight in Iraq and Syria, seven in Turkey, five in D.R. Congo and Ethiopia, four in Iran, three in Chad and Egypt.


Data sourced from Internet Shutdowns via Software Freedom Law Center.


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