“Studying the impact of shutdowns from the lens of gender, conflict and ethnicity”, Rightscon 2019

We are publishing the plan for our Rightscon session entitled “Studying the impact of shutdowns from the lens of gender, conflict and ethnicity”.

Details: https://rightscon2019.sched.com/event/Pvrh/studying-the-impact-of-shutdowns-from-the-lens-of-gender-conflict-and-ethnicity, Thursday, 13 June 2019, 5.15 pm to 6.30 pm, Hannibal, Laico Hotel, Tunis.

Speakers: Rohini Lakshané (also facilitator), Jan Rydzak, Unnamed speaker

Chatham House rules apply.

Main goal of the session: To equip the audience with skills and knowledge about devising studies on intentional Internet shutdowns while factoring in the intersections of gender, conflict-strained geographies and ethnicity. We would like the audience to be able to modify and adapt the study for their contexts and employ the lessons for the workshop for research or advocacy or both.

Description: A skill-building and knowledge-sharing workshop for activists and researchers who are investigating the impact of intentional Internet shutdowns from the lenses of gender, ethnicity and conflict. The methodology and the complete research report are available at: http://thebachchaoproject.org/of-sieges-and-shutdowns

We would elucidate on the methodology we employed in an exploratory study in northeast India in late 2017 about the impact of shutdowns on the lives of women entrepreneurs and feminist activists belonging to India’s ethnic minorities. We carried out qualitative interviews with 16 women residing in different districts of the state of Manipur. The activists in the control group and their organisations work in different areas of empowerment of women and girls: relief for victims of domestic abuse, increasing the number of women in governance, economic independence of women, and child trafficking. Some of them also run small or medium businesses.

Awareness of digital rights, cybersecurity and online privacy in the state is little, leaving citizens vulnerable. This intersection of gender and ethnicity is further complicated due to the suspension of civil rights in the region since the 1980s. Owing to the complexity of the topic, an individual directly affected by the shutdowns in Manipur would start the session with an introduction of the demographic and the region. Rohini Lakshané of The Bachchao Project would then speak about the research methodology, its evolution through the course of the project, and the differentiators from other interdisciplinary and qualitative studies on shutdowns, while trying to achieve a level of abstraction high enough for the methodology to be applicable to other, similar demographics and regions. Jan Rydzak, Associate Director for Program, Standford Global Digital Policy Incubator, would follow by speaking about the research methodology he employed in the quantitative study “Of Blackouts and bandhs: The strategy and structure of disconnected protest in India“. The study examines how structural and strategic characteristics affect collective action responses during a network shutdown in an extreme case via statistical analysis.

Session on Internet shutdowns, ICT4D Conference 2019, Uganda

Slide deck_Of Sieges and Shutdowns_ICT4DCon_2019

Rohini Lakshané of The Bachchao Project spoke at a session entitled “Impact Of Intentional Internet Shutdowns And Unreliable Mobile Connectivity On Women In Conflict-Strained Manipur” at the ICT4D Conference 2019. The session was featured under the “Humanitarian Response and Resilience” track. In the session, Rohini presented the most significant findings of the study “Of Sieges and Shutdowns“, which she conducted with Chinmayi S K in late 2017 in Manipur, India. The exploratory research project was aimed at studying the impact of intentional Internet shutdowns from the lenses of gender, conflict and the status of ethnic minority.

Read the full report of the study at: Of Sieges and Shutdowns

The conference was held from April 30 to May 2, 2019 at Kampala, Uganda. Details: https://www.ict4dconference.org

Of Sieges and Shutdowns

How unreliable mobile networks and intentional Internet shutdowns affect the lives of women in Manipur

By Chinmayi S K and Rohini Lakshané

Of Sieges and Shutdowns draws upon 16 qualitative interviews and as many first-person accounts to unravel and document how unreliable mobile networks and intentional Internet shutdowns affect the lives of women in Manipur. The Bachchao Project conducted this study in late 2017 in Manipur with the support of Integrated Rural Development Service Organisation (IRDSO).

We invited women entrepreneurs and activists working in different areas of women’s empowerment to participate in this study via in-person interviews and a two-day exploratory workshop. This preliminary study is an attempt to probe their use of information communication technologies (ICTs) in professional and everyday contexts, the impact of Internet access issues on their lives, and their experiences of intentional Internet shutdowns.

Of Sieges and Shutdowns (2018), research report by The Bachchao Project [PDF]
View and download the report [PDF]
View a summary of findings of the report [PDF].

View a conference handout [PDF] based on the report.

Ninglun Hanghal reviewed the report for GenderIT.org in December 2018: How Internet Shutdowns Affect The Lives of Women in Manipur

Workshop Design for Feminist Investigation of Access

By Chinmayi S K and Rohini Lakshané

We are publishing this design document to serve as a guideline for conducting an interactive event or a workshop to understand and document how intentional Internet shutdowns affect the lives of women, especially those living in sensitive geographies. It takes into account the best practices and principles of organising feminist meetings and is especially focussed on researching questions about women’s access to the Internet.

We first conceptualised and used this design for a two-day interactive and exploratory workshop held in 2017 in Manipur, India in partnership with the Integrated Rural Development Service Organisation (IRDSO). The workshop was a part of a pilot project to research the effects of unreliable mobile networks and intentional Internet shutdowns on the lives and livelihoods of women in Manipur. 16 women activists, NGO workers, and entrepreneurs from Manipur participated in it. A report entitled “Of Sieges and Shutdowns” comprising the findings from this workshop and subsequent research activities was released at RightsCon 2018 in Toronto, Canada.

The event in this document has been envisaged for interacting with activists and organisations functioning in different areas of empowerment of women: human rights; relief for victims of domestic abuse; economic independence; access to education; increasing the participation of women in governance; and so on. This methodology can be used to investigate these questions:

  1. What are their patterns of Internet usage?
  2. How have intentional Internet shutdowns impacted their lives?

We are releasing this document under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license so that other feminist groups conducting research and advocacy on related topics could adopt this design into their pursuits. Feedback, suggestions and comments that could help us enrich this design for future use are welcome and much appreciated. If you would like our help in applying this design to the context of your research or advocacy, please email us: theteam [at] thebachchaoproject [dot] org

Workshop Design: Of Sieges and Shutdowns
Workshop Design: Of Sieges and Shutdowns

Research Methodology: Of Sieges and Shutdowns

How unreliable mobile networks and intentional Internet shutdowns affect the lives of women in Manipur

By Chinmayi S K and Rohini Lakshané

The research methodology adopted for the exploratory study titled “Of Sieges and Shutdowns” has been delineated here.

Literature survey

Research report

Last updated: June 8, 2018


Questions

  1. What do women entrepreneurs and women activists located in Manipur use the mobile phone and the Internet for?
    1. What devices do they use to access the Internet? Who owns those devices? (Mobile devices such as smartphones, feature phones, basic mobile phones and tablets; mobile devices shared with one or more members of the family; other networked devices such as Ethernet routers)
    2. Over the past 40 years, that is, since 1977:
      1. How has their access to the Internet changed?
      2. How has their access to mobile communication devices changed?
    3. Is there a difference between usage of mobile devices that are Internet-enabled and those that are not?
    4. Are there limitations or barriers to their access to the Internet and mobile networks?
      1. If yes, what are those limitations or barriers, as articulated by them?
      2. What do they do to circumvent or overcome those barriers?
    5. What are the software applications they use on their Internet-enabled devices?
  2. Are there documented and verifiable instances of intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks in Manipur?
    1. If yes, 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?
  3. 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?
    1. How do the affected women overcome or mitigate negative effects of shutdowns, and what tangible steps have they taken or considered taking?

Objective

The objectives of this study are to qualitatively determine:

  • The usage of the mobile phone and the Internet among activists and entrepreneur women in Manipur for personal, professional and social purposes and in disaster situations.
  • How low quality of services (QoS) of networks affect the lives and livelihoods of the surveyed women
  • How intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks affect the surveyed women
  • The steps the surveyed women take to mitigate or prevent the negative effects of intentional shutdowns and unreliable mobile networks on their lives.

For the sake of brevity, the term “mobile phone” in this study includes all wireless communication devices such as tablets, phablets, smartphones and feature phones.

Object

A survey sample comprising 16 women activists and entrepreneurs residing in Manipur. These women locate themselves in different areas of women’s empowerment.

Criteria for choosing the survey respondents

  • We invited 20 women entrepreneurs and activists who were natives for Manipur belonging to different districts, ethnic tribes, religions, economic classes, formal academic backgrounds, professions and ages. The size of the survey sample was restricted to 20 because it was the first and preliminary phase of the study.
  • 16 were available to take in-person interviews and attend the two-day exploratory workshop.
  • In view of the socio-political situation in Manipur, we were aware of the local peoples’ mistrust of individuals and organisations from the so-called “mainland India”. There is often a trust deficit among peoples in northeastern India towards peoples that do not face the same challenges. To be able to meet relevant respondents and have candid interactions despite a lack of prior acquaintance with them, we identified and invited potential respondents through a circle of trust.

Demographic composition of the survey sample

16 respondents were surveyed.

Ethnicity and religion
The respondents belonged to the Meitei, Naga, Kuki and Pangal ethnic groups and followed Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Language
All but three respondents possessed working knowledge of the English language. Some also spoke Hindi, apart from their respective native languages.

Age
The respondents were between 20 and 60 years of age.

Gender
All respondents identified themselves as cisgender women.

Location
All respondents were natives of Manipur residing in districts of either the Imphal valley or the hills.

Profession
The respondents comprised entrepreneurs, activists, NGO workers and other professionals. The entrepreneurs owned food processing units, poultry farms, handloom and textile units, weavers’ cooperatives, and franchises doing retail sale of cosmetics. Activists and NGO workers in the group mainly worked in the domains of health, women’s rights, gender justice, economic independence for women, and access to education. They identified themselves as trainers, rescue workers (abuse and trafficking), human rights defenders, RTI (right to information) activists, and researchers. Some activists and NGO workers were also entrepreneurs or employed gainfully in freelance jobs outside the not-for-profit sector. Some entrepreneurs practised more than one trade, running different small businesses.

Additionally, the group consisted of an elected member of a gram panchayat, which is a local self-governance body in rural India, and women who professionally practise weaving, veterinary medicine, and accountancy.

Education
The respondents had completed different levels of formal education: High school or lower, Bachelors degree, Masters degree, Doctoral degree or professional degree(s).

Rationale

[Corresponding research questions: 1. What do women entrepreneurs and women activists located in Manipur use the mobile phone and the Internet for?
3. 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?]
The findings of this study would enable us, other researchers, and relevant stakeholders to:

  • Make technical and policy recommendations for government and non-government actors and civil society entities.
  • Study from the lens of Manipur the Internet shutdown rules issued by the DoT, known as the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
  • Develop a mechanism to monitor Internet shutdowns in the region via technical measurement.
  • Create a road map to enable better network connectivity for communities in Manipur.

[Corresponding research question: 6. Over the past 40 years, that is, since 1977: How has their access to the Internet changed? How has their access to mobile communication devices changed?]
The respondents are in the age bracket of 20 to 60 years and the study was conducted in late 2017. So the oldest experiences of using telecom devices and services in Manipur are likely to date back to 40-odd years, that is, until circa 1977.

Method

[Corresponding research questions: 1. What do women entrepreneurs and women activists located in Manipur use the mobile phone and the Internet for?

  1. What devices do they use to access the Internet? Who owns those devices? (Mobile devices such as smartphones, feature phones, basic mobile phones and tablets; mobile devices shared with one or more members of the family; other networked devices such as Ethernet routers)
  2. Over the past 40 years, that is, since 1977:
    1. How has their access to the Internet changed?
    2. How has their access to mobile communication devices changed?
  3. Is there a difference between usage of mobile devices that are Internet-enabled and those that are not?
  4. Are there limitations or barriers to their access to the Internet and mobile networks?
    1. If yes, what are those limitations or barriers, as articulated by them?
    2. What do they do to circumvent or overcome those barriers?
  5. What are the software applications they use on their Internet-enabled devices?

3. 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?

1. How do the affected women overcome or mitigate negative effects of shutdowns, and what tangible steps have they taken or considered taking?]

Random sampling and quantitative surveys were ruled out as methods because this was an exploratory study conducted to chart and define the landscape for future phases of research. Additionally, the possibility of getting partial, reserved or inconclusive responses because of the trust deficit towards outsiders made it necessary that the researchers interact with all surveyed women in person. As a result, the survey was conducted over two steps:

  1. An interactive workshop for the researchers and surveyed women
  2. In-person interviews that were later anonymised

Interactive workshop

The two-day interactive workshop was conducted by the research team:

  1. For the research team and the surveyed women to get acquainted with each other in a safe space and an environment of trust while minimising potential fears of their privacy and security being jeopardised.
  2. To transparently establish the need and context of the study before administering the interview questionnaire
  3. To make available to the workshop participants an uninhibited space they could freely speak about their lived experiences in a group.
  4. To delineate the needs of the workshop participants in terms of their digital rights. E.g., All participants requested one or more training sessions on digital security.

The workshop was designed in keeping with the cultural, social, economic, and political contexts of the state. The results may not be reproducible if the design of the interactive workshop and the overall method of survey are applied to other populations who do not live in the same or similar contexts. The design of the workshop has been published at http://thebachchaoproject.org/workshop-design-for-feminist-investigation-of-access

Survey interviews

The survey questionnaire was administered in this step. Each participant of the workshop was interviewed individually and in a private space. All interview responses were recorded in November 2017.

Survey instrument

  1. Which of these devices do you use?
    1. Personal devices such as smartphones, other kinds of mobile phones, laptops and desktop computers
      1. What brand of phone do you use?
      2. What mobile operating system do you use?
      3. When did you buy your mobile phone?
      4. Where did you buy your mobile phone(s)?
    2. Network infrastructure devices such as routers
  2. What company’s SIM card(s) do you use?
    1. What SIMs do you use for [accessing the] Internet?
    2. Is it a prepaid or postpaid SIM?
    3. How much do you spend on mobile Internet per month?
    4. Do you use more than one SIM card?
      1. What do you use multiple SIM cards for?
  3. Which of these services do you use? (Yes/ No)
    • WhatsApp
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • LinkedIn
    • Pinterest
    • YouTube
    • Gmail
    • Yahoo Mail
    • Blogging platforms
    • Microloan websites
    • Crowdfunding websites
    • Alibaba [If yes, to buy or sell or both?]
    • AliExpress [If yes, to buy or sell or both?]
    • e-Stores [Examples for respondents who do not know what an e-store is: Ebay and Etsy.]
    • Online shopping
    • Enterprise software
  1. Do you make payments or send anybody money via mobile?
  2. What kind of technologies do you regularly use for your work?
  3. Are you the only person who uses your mobile phone?
  4. Are you the only person who uses your laptop/ computer?
  5. How is your personal and social life affected when the Internet does not work?
  6. How is your professional life and business affected when the Internet does not work ?
  7. Could you tell us about your experiences from the December 2016 economic blockade in Manipur?
    1. In the past 3 years have you experienced any other Internet or mobile shutdowns?
  8. Have you ever tried complaining to the telco or service provider when the Internet does not work? If yes, what was the response you received?
  9. During the earthquake and the floods that happened in Manipur, did you use the Internet or the mobile phone to reach to safety or get other people rescued or to get other people to safety?

Anonymisation

All responses were anonymised. Potential personally-identifiable information was redacted.

Validation of findings

One of the respondents gave some answers that were inconsistent with each other. Those responses were discarded.
All events relevant to the study and mentioned by the respondents were corroborated using reliable sources such as credible news reports, research reports, and government orders.

Analysis of findings

After the validation stage, the responses recorded during the workshop and in the transcripts from the interviews were analysed for possible patterns. Different categories were identified:

  • Use of WhatsApp and Facebook for activism and public mobilisation
  • Respondents’ awareness of being surveilled
  • Use of the Internet and mobile devices for entertainment
  • For research and education
  • For personal purposes
  • For professional purposes
  • For activism
  • Impact of low and unreliable QoS on professional life (8 sub-categories)
  • Impact on low and unreliable QoS on personal life (3 sub-categories)
  • Use of mobile devices and the Internet during disasters and natural calamities
  • Consumer awareness about poor QoS
  • Use of multiple mobile devices and connections
  • Lived experiences during intentional shutdowns
  • Unexpected uptime of BSNL services during intentional Internet shutdowns
  • Effects of shutdowns
    • Economic losses
    • Personal and public safety
    • Sentiment about the violation of the freedom of speech and expression
    • Emotional well being
    • Lack of state support during natural disasters and other emergencies
    • Experiences from the time of banknote demonetisation, 2016
    • Loss of work hours and productivity
    • Strained personal, professional and social relationships

Ethical considerations

Some of the views documented in this study could pose risks to the respondents’ security and privacy. We have, therefore, taken measures such as redacting personally identifiable information from responses and anonymising direct quotes.

All participants were required to sign a consent form (Annexure 1: Proforma consent form) at the beginning of the workshop as a prerequisite to attend the workshop. The contents of the consent form and the protocol (Annexure 2: Protocol for the workshop) were explained to them at the outset and they were urged to put forth their queries. This was done to ensure that we had indeed obtained “informed” consent.

We selected the venue where we met the respondents based on considerations of protecting their security and privacy and ours.

While ethical considerations forbid the slanting of questions in any research pursuit, we were exceptionally cautious of maintaining the neutrality of our questionnaire and our interactions (both planned and casual) with the respondents of the survey. As outsiders, we needed to strike a balance between being aware of local sensibilities and objectively recording our findings. This reflects in the difference between our research questions and the survey instrument. External researchers and partner organisations peer-reviewed the design of the two-day interactive workshop and the survey instrument before we embarked on the study. Questions that could either elicit deeply personal replies or potentially slant the perception of the group were left out of the workshop and included in the survey instrument.

Ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, and geographic diversity in Manipur, and the conflict between some of these groups, necessitated that we bring as many different and diverse voices to the table as possible. We invited respondents from diverse communities and paid for their travel expenses to ensure they do not drop out because of prohibitive travel costs.

A study such as this is deeply political in nature and should be paired with a strong grasp of different local contexts and sensibilities. It would have been ideal for a team from the state of Manipur to have designed and conducted this project. However, we realised during the course of our previous work in the region that the capacity for it does not exist locally and needs to be built before such a project can be initiated. On the other hand, the lack of substantial, verifiable and documented information on the topic from the state presented a need too pressing to wait for learning and capacity-building to happen. In keeping with the ongoing emphasis on digital empowerment in India, we decided to conduct this research when the opportunity for us arose.

The phrasing of the survey questionnaire has been kept simple in order to accommodate those who are acquainted but not necessarily fluent in the English language. We could not arrange for a professional interpreter due to various constraints. We worked around this issue by paying one of the respondents to interpret and translate for those who could not interact with us in English.

Some of our respondents suspected that they were under surveillance by one or more of the forces at play in the state. The low awareness of digital security among activists thus posed another challenge. We used electronic communications minimally while coordinating this study with them, relying on a combination of offline and online communication strategies.

Literature survey

[Corresponding research questions:

  1. Are there documented and verifiable instances of intentional shutdowns of the Internet and/ or mobile networks in Manipur?
  2. If yes, 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?
  3. 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?]

These questions have been answered via a comprehensive literature survey available at http://thebachchaoproject.org/literature-survey-of-sieges-and-shutdowns.

[Corresponding research question 1. What do women entrepreneurs and women activists located in Manipur use the mobile phone and the Internet for?]

The literature survey only partially answers this question as the surveyed text (Information lives of the poor: Fighting poverty with technology) only pertains to low-income groups.

Limitations

Selection bias

The method of selecting respondents introduced a selection bias in the sample. (Refer to “Criteria for selecting survey respondents”.) As a result of an unavoidable trade-off between selection bias and the possibility of receiving distrustful, reticent or inconclusive responses, the former was chosen. Despite the selection bias, we could interview respondents belonging to different age brackets, ethnic groups, religions, vocations, and districts in Manipur.

Lack of corresponding technical investigation
Some responses about the quality of services of different mobile network operators can only be corroborated via technical measurements. The preliminary nature of the study did not allow for such investigation. Hence, those responses have been treated as anecdotal and discarded.

Lack of acquaintance with local language(s)

  • The research team did not possess knowledge of the local languages. The designated translator and interpreter for survey activities was not a professional.
  • The research team could not search for and peruse offline and online reliable sources in the local languages in order to corroborate or verify information or to obtain the necessary context.
  • The research team could not hire an additional researcher who had knowledge of one or more local languages as it was a pilot study and the team could not be expanded.

Lack of literature survey focussed on Manipur

Conducting a literature survey was difficult because of the sheer lack of scholarship in the context of Manipur on the topic of Internet shutdowns and women’s experiences of living with the unreliability of wireless communication networks. Either credible references written in English on the topic do not exist or they have not been published online as research papers, scholarly texts and books. Because we do not possess knowledge of the local languages, we could not search for and peruse literature written in them. It is another indicator of the information black hole in the northeastern region.

Choice of narrative style

Connecting and contextualising different responses given by the same interviewee by assigning them a pseudonym would have yielded a richer and more humanised narrative than what exists in this report. However, it could also potentially make it possible to connect data points and deanonymise respondents. Hence, we opted for the present narrative style.

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