Internet Ban Reimposed in Manipur, India, Amid Violent Protests
Internet Ban Restored Amid Violent Protests
The Indian state of Manipur, already embroiled in an ongoing conflict between the Hindu Meitei majority and the largely Christian Kuki community, recently saw the reinstatement of an internet ban following a spate of violent protests. The ban had been in place for nearly five months, was briefly lifted, and then re-imposed due to the escalating unrest in the region.
The trigger for the resurgence of violence was the online circulation of images depicting two deceased students, victims of the regional conflict. The internet ban was reinstated to curb the spread of false information and potentially incendiary activities via social media platforms.
The Genesis and Escalation of the Conflict
Since its inception in May, the conflict has resulted in the tragic loss of over 150 lives. The ethnic divide fuels the tension, with rival militia groups setting up blockades and exacerbating the volatile situation. The dispute, primarily between the Meitei and the Kuki communities, has turned Manipur into a battleground.
The Meitei community, which comprises the majority of the state’s population, is predominantly Hindu. In contrast, the Kuki community is mainly Christian. The conflict between these communities is not merely religious but also ethnic, leading to a complex and deeply-rooted issue.
Government Measures and Criticism
In response to the violent demonstrations in the state capital, Imphal, the government reinstated the internet ban on Tuesday. This move was an attempt to control the spread of potentially inflammatory content via social media platforms.
The state’s chief minister, Biren Singh, announced late Tuesday that investigations into the students’ deaths were underway. However, the state government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has faced criticism for its inability to resolve the violence effectively.
Human Rights Watch has accused Manipur’s authorities of fueling the conflict through policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism. Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the opposing Congress party, accused the BJP of turning Manipur into a “battlefield.”
The Paradox of Digital India and the Internet Ban
Interestingly, this internet ban seems to contradict the vision of a digital India that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has championed since his election in 2014. On one hand, India is being portrayed as a digital revolution leader, boasting about its digitized systems and encouraging the world to follow suit. On the other hand, the country is imposing frequent internet blackouts, disabling these digital systems, affecting millions of people, and incurring substantial financial costs.
The internet ban’s impact in Manipur has been significant, leading to an information blackout about the conflict, spreading misinformation, and covering up some of the worst abuses committed in the violence. The economic impact has also been substantial, with the shutdown costing the state millions and leading to country-wide losses of over billions.
The Way Forward
As the conflict in Manipur continues, the reinstatement of the internet ban adds another layer of complexity to an already intricate issue. While the government’s aim is to prevent the spread of false information and curb violent activities, it’s crucial to consider the broader implications of such a ban, particularly its impact on the economy, livelihoods, and the free flow of information.
It’s clear that a more holistic approach is needed to address the root causes of the conflict and find lasting solutions. This would involve not only resolving the underlying ethnic and religious tensions but also ensuring the responsible use of digital platforms for information dissemination.
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