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The Indian Government have shut down the country’s internet (again) amid protests

The Indian Government has shut the country’s internet down to squash independent journalism in the wake of the farmers’ protests.

Since August 2020, India’s farmers – primarily from the states of Haryana and Punjab – have been protesting their country’s incumbent administration. Spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government have pushed discriminatory, anti-Muslim nationalism and authoritarian political tactics onto the nation.

On 27 January 2021, internet services were cut in the Jhajjhar, Sonipat, and Palwal districts in Haryana: a tactic that was justified as a preventative effort against misinformation.

farmers protest (1)
Protestors in Delhi (Photo: ANI)

Ironically enough, the lack of media covering the police violence and emphasised coverage of the protestors’ responses has spoken volumes about the Republic’s intolerant perspective towards public dissent. Apparently, we can’t have too much democracy these days, can we Mr Modi?

The protestors, who mostly identify as the Sikh religious minority, are farmers demanding a repeal of legislation that removes (in their opinion, the already minimal) state protection over negotiations with private companies and wholesale buyers. According to the New York Times, “more than 60% of India’s 1.3 billion people still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood.”

The internet shutdown can be seen as a way to manipulate the government narrative, it almost reminds me of a certain ex-President’s “alternative facts.” There’s no surprise that Modi and he-who-shall-not-be-named have been quite chummy in the past, bonding over their shared, power-hungry taste for ethnic purity.

You’d think it’d be straight out of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but the Indian government’s weaponisation of the internet isn’t anything new. Authorities began the longest-ever digital shutdown in the Jammu and Kashmir region in August 2019, when the Modi administration stripped the region of its previous “special status” as an autonomous territory. This shutdown began a series of severe restrictive measures, leaving millions of people without digital connectivity for over a year.

The protests have been gathering momentum, despite the dozens of fatalities that have occurred since August 2020. Indian farmers are still one of the most impoverished and marginalised groups in the country, it is estimated that, on average, 16,000 farmers commit suicide every year in India.