63m Indian citizens without mobile internet following protests

27 Aug 2015

Mobile internet users in the Gujarat region of India have been without internet for two days following a government clampdown on protests after the arrest of a community leader.

The mobile internet shutdown is likely to affect as many as 63m people in the region in the western part of the country, with the shutdown being aimed at limiting instant messaging services, particularly WhatsApp.

The shutdown comes following the arrest of Hardik Patel, a 21-year-old who was leading a huge rally in the streets of the region’s capital, Ahmedabad, calling for equal opportunities for applications to schools and universities in the area.

Patel and his group are calling for his Patidar community to gain Other Backward Class (OBC) status, which allows easier access to the top universities in the region, regardless of financial status.

Since Tuesday, however, the protest turned violent and since the deployment of the Indian military to the area eight people have been killed, but there have been no reports of violence since.

According to The Next Web, this scaling back of violence was spurred on by Patel himself, who sent a message to communities on WhatsApp.

Police fear crowd mobilisation

“I make an appeal to maintain peace and keep calm. I give a call for Gujarat bandh tomorrow (Wednesday),” Patel said in his message. “This decision has been taken by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti considering widespread violence in the state.”

WhatsApp has been used as the main platform for communication to their followers passing on statements and videos, but now the government and police have become anxious over its organisational capabilities.

Seeing as they couldn’t block access to one service, they took the heavy-handed decision to shut all access to mobile internet.

“Last night, there were concerns of rumour-mongering and crowd mobilisation through WhatsApp,” a Gujarat police officer said in a statement.

However, internet access is unrestricted on desktop computers and other non-mobile means.

At the time of writing, there has been no timeline given as to when the ban will be lifted.

Man using mobile phone in Ahmedabad, India image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic