In Sudden Reversal, Internet Shut Down Again in Manipur

Just days after a shutdown that lasted 143 days was lifted, internet services were once again suspended in the northeastern state where ethnic violence continues.

New Delhi: Just days after the Internet was restored in conflict-ridden Manipur, the state government announced on Tuesday, September 26, that connections would once again be severed – for five days at least.

In an order, the Manipur home department said that there was spread of “disinformation, false rumours and other types of violent activities” through various social media platforms and electronic devices, because of which the government was – with immediate effect – suspending the Internet.

The order says that the Internet was facilitating bulk SMSes and mobilisation of mobs of agitators and demonstrators, “which may cause loss of life and/or damage to public/private property” or aggravate the law and order situation. It adds:

“The State Government has decided to suspend/curb mobile internet data services, as well as internet/data services through VPN, in the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Manipur for five (5) days, with immediate effect until 7:45 PM on 01-10-2023…. and the same will be reviewed before the expiry of the orders.”

Last year, there was only one internet shutdown in Manipur. This year, the Internet was severed 143 days – from May 3, when the ongoing ethnic clashes between Meiteis and Kukis began – until September 23. The second shutdown has commenced again on Tuesday.

Also Read: India’s Trigger-Happy Internet Shutdowns Hurt its Poor and Marginalised

The development comes amid protests against viral photos showing the bodies of two Meitei students – Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam and Phijam Hemanjit Singh – who had been missing for over two months.

The photos sparked a huge protest by students in the capital city, Imphal, demanding justice. Students took to the streets, stating, ‘Maheiroi Hatpa Yaningde,’ which means ‘We’re against the killing of students.’

In one video, state police can be seen using force on the students to control the protest. Sources said many of the protesters were injured as the police lathi-charged them and fired tear gas shells.

The Manipur government also announced that all government and private schools would remain closed until September 29, 2023.

The Congress said that the development makes a “complete mockery” of claims of normalcy. “But nothing moves or fazes the PM as far as Manipur is concerned. He has simply abandoned the people there. The PM is only concerned about latching onto power come what may and nothing else matters to him,” said the party’s spokesperson Jairam Ramesh.

While the government has claimed that the Internet was used to spread rumours, reports from the ground and expert opinion suggest otherwise. The suspension has hindered the flow of information that could have revealed the true scale of violence, critics of shutdowns say. Emergency services have also been affected by the blanket ban.

One ground report said that in the absence of internet, “news and updates of events were often distorted. Information was distributed by those in positions of power, to shape a narrative that suited their convenience”.

Also Read: India’s Internet Shutdowns Hurt Women More, Manipur Assaults Show

Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation noted, “Information flows are also necessary to ensure the accountability of the State and central governments in taking steps to ensure truth, justice and reconciliation.”

India is considered the “Internet shutdown capital“, with data compiled by global digital rights group Access Now revealing that India implemented at least 84 shutdowns in 2022 – the most among any democratic country. This was the fifth consecutive year that India was rated the world’s worst offender in terms of enforcing deliberate internet shutdowns.