Literature Survey: Of Sieges and Shutdowns

First published: May 18, 2018

Last updated: June 14, 2018

This literature survey identifies published research that is relevant to the study of (a) How women in vulnerable and/ or marginalised populations use the mobile phone and the Internet in their everyday lives for personal, social and professional purposes and in disaster situations; (b) The financial, social and economic impact and effects of intentional Internet shutdowns on such populations.

This literature survey is a part of the research project entitled “Of Sieges and Shutdowns” that attempts to investigate how unreliable mobile networks and intentional Internet shutdowns affect the lives of women in Manipur, India.

Research methodology: Of Sieges and Shutdowns


While the high number of intentional Internet shutdowns in India has a been a topic of much research and advocacy, there is little information to shine a light on sensitive, conflict-ridden geographies within India and from the lens of gender. There is also little by way of credible literature, academic or otherwise, available on the Internet in the English language about the use of ICTs by Manipuri women. Similarly, we were unable to find academic scholarship on the effects of intentional Internet shutdowns on the lives of the people of northeast India in general or Manipur in particular. Apart from three scholarly publications, this literature survey has been drawn from material for advocacy and awareness published by NGOs and news articles and reports by media outlets.

Use of the mobile phone and Internet by low-income groups

[Partially corresponding research question: What do women entrepreneurs and women activists located in Manipur use the mobile phone and the Internet for?]

As net state domestic product (NSDP) and per capita income in Manipur is among the lowest in the country, it may be worthwhile to explore how low-income populations in India and other developing countries use the mobile phone and the Internet. The socio-political milieu pervading Manipur for the past four-odd decades has hampered economic development, which is why the use of ICTs by the financially poor in India and elsewhere could be considered a topic relevant to our study.

Elder et al (2013) conducted household surveys in 38 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to know how the financially poor use ICTs and how they benefit from having access to mobile devices, computers, and the Internet. India was among the countries surveyed. (The report does not contain case studies or findings specifically attributed to Manipur.)

Crucial benefits and uses of mobile phones among the poor: In the surveys conducted by Elder et al, the primary use of mobile phones among the poor was for social interactions but potential emergencies ranked high as the main reason for them purchasing a handset.

Business: The greatest economic benefit derived from the use of the mobile phone by business owners was saving time and money on transportation and procurement. Business owners could achieving faster turnaround time in procurement and in responding to clients. Other benefits for them included being able to reach a wider network of customers, thus increasing their revenues. Small and medium businesses gained more when their potential customers accessed the Internet.

Banking: The use of Internet-enabled mobile phones enables the use of “mobile money”, which suits the needs of the poor who may not be able to access conventional banks.

Healthcare: The poor use telemedicine services, especially in far-flung areas, where they cannot access healthcare services and cannot afford to travel to access them.

Social capital: Social capital and currency are gained from staying connected to social circles.

Access to avenues of income: Social exchanges help them stay in the know about opportunities for employment or earning an additional income.

Crises/ emergencies: The poor seek help from their social circles in the time of emergencies, especially when state-run emergency services are not available or accessible to them.

While the above effects may occur in all strata of society, it may be inferred that intentional Internet shutdowns affect economically marginalised and vulnerable populations to a greater degree as these populations do not have easy access to alternatives.

Economic costs of Internet shutdowns

[Corresponding research question: How are the personal, professional, and social lives of women in Manipur impacted and affected by temporary, intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks?]

Darrell M. West (2016) examined instances of Internet shutdowns in 19 different countries occurring from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 and found 81 disruptions, 22 of which had happened in India. The total number of days of Internet shutdowns in India was pegged at 70.54 and total gross domestic product (GDP) lost by the country due to shutdowns at approximately USD 968 million, which was the highest among all the surveyed countries. West sourced this information from news reports and lists of shutdowns compiled by not-for-profit organisations.

West defined shutdowns as the presence of one or more conditions out of three:

  • Temporary shutdown of all Internet that occurred locally or nationally
  • Temporary shutdown of mobile Internet that occurred locally or nationally
  • Temporary blocking of specific applications and/ or service, locally or nationally

Six different formulae were used to estimate the economic impact of different types of Internet shutdowns on national GDP. West refers to the amounts of economic losses incurred by the different countries as “conservative estimates” that reflect only the reductions in economic activity.

Incidents of Internet shutdown in India (2010 Onwards)

[Corresponding research question: Are there documented and verifiable instances of intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks in Manipur?]

According to a compilation of incidents of Internet shutdowns in India published by the Centre for Communication Governance (CCG, 2017), there are two documented instances of shutdowns in Manipur. One occured from September 1 to 8, 2015 when all Internet services were stopped owing to the circulation of “provocative remarks and photos, which had the potential to ignite communal violence in the state”. It is one of the 22 Indian shutdowns mapped by Darrell West (2016). The other lasted from December 17 to 30, 2016 in East Imphal and West Imphal districts after all wireless Internet services were shuttered to thwart the circulation of rumours via the Internet. Imphal was then facing public security concerns in light of an economic blockade called by the United Naga Council (UNC), a collective of Naga peoples in Manipur.

At the time of writing, CCG’s compilation records incidents of shutdowns from the year 2010 to 29 May 2017. Like Darrell West, CCG compiled information about shutdowns from news reports in the English-language media. In some cases CCG also obtained information from or about official orders released for the shutdowns.

Shutdowns tracker: InternetShutdowns.in

[Corresponding research question: Are there documented and verifiable instances of intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks in Manipur?]

According to InternetShutdowns.in, 129 shutdowns occurred in India from January 2012 to December 2017, of which 70 happened in the current year (2017) alone. The tracking website states that owing to the lack of public notices by the government about the imposition of shutdowns, it sources its data from newspaper reports and from people who are directly affected by network disruptions. InternetShutdowns.in is run by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), which describes itself as a “donor-supported legal services organisation… operating all over India”.

As of December 31, 2017, it shows that two shutdowns have occurred in Manipur: One imposed in the Imphal East and Imphal West districts on the orders of the respective District Magistrates, lasting for 12 days from December 18 to 30, 2016 and another in Churachandpur district starting from September 2, 2015 and ending at an unspecified date. It is pertinent to note that both mobile Internet and wired broadband Internet were reportedly shut down in Churachandpur with the exception of some subscribers of BSNL for whom it continued to function.

Reasons cited for enforcing shutdowns in India

[Partially corresponding question: What was the nature of these shutdowns in terms of their time of occurrence, duration, scope, location within Manipur, type of Internet technology (i.e., wireless Internet, wired broadband, mobile voice networks), and the reasons cited, or lack thereof, for implementing the shutdowns?]

The most common reason cited by state governments in India for enforcing shutdowns, as is evident from news reports and various studies, has been the prevention or curtailment of the spread of provocative rumours and potentially inflammatory content. The locus of such content is usually social media platforms and instant messengers such as WhatsApp. Some shutdowns have been preventive and others reactive to situations of disruption of law and order.

Chinmayi Arun and Nakul Nayak (2016) observe that the justifications provided by state governments for enforcing Internet shutdowns range from the fear of the spread of communally-sensitive rumours about cow caracasses to prevention of malpractices in public examinations. They note that most of the alleged reasons “fall under the umbrella of hate speech or online incitement to violence”. The circulation of incendiary rumours or misrepresented facts is restricted by cutting access to the Internet (via mobile networks or broadband or both) under laws that allow for the “maintenance of public order”. The authors also state the example of two shutdowns of mobile Internet — one lasting for seven days in Gujarat (August 2015) and another for 12 days in Haryana (February 2016) — as arguably being unnecessary long while being intended to restrict rumour-mongering and incitement.

Bibliography

  1. Incidents of Internet shutdown in India (2010 Onwards). (2017). Centre for Communication Governance (CCG), National Law University, New Delhi. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BycAZd9M5_7NOExCRnQ3Q1pqcm8/view
  2. Arun, C; Nayak, N. (2016, December 8). Preliminary Findings on Online Hate Speech and the Law in India. Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2016-19. Retrieved June 14, 2018, from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2882238
  3. Elder, L., Samarajiva, R., Gillwald, A., & Galperin, H. (2013). Information lives of the poor: Fighting poverty with technology. International Development Research Centre (IDRC). ISBN 9781552505717. https://www.idrc.ca/en/book/infocus-information-lives-poor-fighting-poverty-technology
  4. West, D. M. (October 2016). Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year. Center for Technological Innovation at Brookings, Washington, DC. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/intenet-shutdowns-v-3.pdf [PDF].

News reports corroborating wireless Internet shutdowns in Manipur

  1. Fowler, T. (2015, September 4). Why a blanket ban on the Internet in troubled Manipur is a not a good idea. Scroll. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://scroll.in/article/753108/why-a-blanket-ban-on-the-internet-in-troubled-manipur-is-not-a-good-idea
  2. Laithangbam, I. (2015, September 2). Curfew Continues in Manipur; Internet Blocked. The Hindu. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/internet-blocked-in-manipur-to-check-communal-flare/article7607186.ece
  3. Thokchom, K. (2015, September 2). Net shutdown to check trouble. The Telegraph. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150903/jsp/frontpage/story_40506.jsp
  4. Manipur government lifts block on Internet. (2015, September 9). PTI. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/manipur-government-lifts-block-on-internet/articleshow/48889394.cms
  5. Curfew imposed in parts of Imphal, mobile internet service snapped after violence. (2016, December 18). The Indian Express. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/city-others/manipur-imphal-curfew-protest-nscn-internet-service-shut-down
  6. Manipur blockade: Curfew imposed, mobile internet suspended in Imphal. (2016, December 18). Scroll. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://scroll.in/latest/824486/manipur-blockade-mobile-internet-services-suspended-in-imphal-west-district
  7. Internet data service from tomorrow. (2016, December 28). Imphal Free Press. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://www.ifp.co.in/page/items/36545/internet-data-service-from-tomorrow

Rohini Lakshané is Director (Emerging Research) at The Bachchao Project. She is a technologist by training, a long-time Wikimedian, and a public policy researcher. Rohini lives in Mysuru, India and tweets @aldebaran14.

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