The government of Nagaland probably as a preventive measure in curbing the ongoing protests and demonstrations against the conduct of ULB elections have shut down mobile internet services in the state. However, even before the violence broke out on the streets services provided through mobile telephony were shutdown one after the other. The first was in Wokha district where it was shut down for almost a week just before the elections but till today there is no official response for the reasons of the shutdown.
When the state-wide strike called by the tribal organisations started on January 28, there was the initial shutdown of some Internet Service Providers. It came back after 1-2 days but just to be shut down completely across all the Internet Service Providers. Even Short Message Service(SMS) was not spared and at present Nagaland has gone back to the pre-internet days except for those who have wired internet connectivity. However in the last ten days there have been neither any official notification nor any statement from the government on the shutdown.
So at present a state that recently had a summit on the theme to make Nagaland the next big IT hub in Southeast Asia is currently going through a scenario where Smartphones have been relegated to the standards of old telephone handsets. With the SMS blocked, transactions through internet payment gateways have become impossible because the One Time Passwords (OTP) for verification usually sent through SMS cannot be received. Although it is the first week of a new month, the e-payment facility of the power department launched in the month of October 2016 will be having one of the lowest payment if not zero payments. Moreover the very popular and quicker way of using messaging apps for exchanging images between traders and buyers before confirming a deal is forgotten for the moment. The cashless economy mantra announced by the centre is at the moment somewhere down in the bottom of the list in Nagaland.
It is acceptable that the government is trying to stop any subversive activities against it and stop the spread of violence but at the same time the current crisis in Nagaland cannot be compared with other communal violence that happens in other parts of the country. It should also not be equated with the earlier cases in Nagaland that had communal overtones. The current protest involves the civil societies in Nagaland against the government’s decision to enforce certain laws. Moreover the shutdown is against the very idea of freedom of information and the basic concept of the Internet itself; free flow of information.
The global digital rights organisation Access Now talking about Internet shutdowns says, “What we have found is that internet shutdowns go hand in hand with atrocities”. The advocacy organisation also claimed that there were more than 50 attempts by governments across the world to shut down the internet during 2016. Internet shutdown is implemented across the world to suppress free speech, quell dissents, enforce a law etc. but consequently it also leads to economic slowdowns. A Brookings research found out that the Internet shutdowns in India during 2015-16 cost the economy almost 968 million dollars, the largest in the world.
The government of Nagaland could have stopped prepaid services is there is a security threat, thereby ensuring that only post-paid subscribers with valid identification have access to data and other services. This way it will also be easy for the government to track down the culprits if in fact they are indulging in any subversive and illegal activity. However the decision of the government to even block SMS only indicates that it does not want its citizens to share information. It is not about any illegal activity but the government just do not want its citizens to share and talk about its failures.