Growing unease as Internet shutdowns increase sharply under Modi's rule

MUMBAI: First he tried messaging friends, but WhatsApp was down. Then, the credit card readers at his clothing store weren't working. Ride-sharing apps were offline too.

Mr Harsh Madhok, who runs a clothing business in Jaipur, a city of three million people, had read about Internet shutdowns elsewhere in India.

Now he was in the middle of one in his city in the northern state of Rajasthan, as authorities tried to damp down unrest following a traffic incident that led to clashes between police and locals. "It's very frustrating," said Madhok, 45, of the Sept 9 shutdown.

"These things leave you feeling like you don't know what's going on."

Under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India's Hindu nationalist leader, Internet shutdowns have escalated sharply in the world's largest democracy.

According to a database maintained by the Software Freedom Law Centre, an online advocacy group in New Delhi, government officials ordered shutdowns 42 times between January and August in 2017. That compares with six times in all of 2014, when Mr Modi came to power.

The shutdowns were spread over 11 states this year, compared with just one in 2012.

The disconnections, which state governments have said are necessary for maintaining public order, typically happen without official explanation.

They have followed farmer agitations, protests by a minority community calling for government jobs, and public violence sparked by a Facebook post.

The frequency of the shutdowns has raised concerns that internal security is being used as a justification to clamp down on freedom of expression.

That refrain has been heard more frequently since Mr Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won elections in 2014 with an emphasis on security. - REUTERS

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