Does Disruption of Connectivity affect the Movement against CAB 2019?
Assam has been thrown into turmoil over the past three days along with the entire northeast, boiling over the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The bill, which was formally adopted into a law on the night of 12th December after the President’s assent has further escalated protests in Assam.
The epicentre of it all, Guwahati, has seen relentless protests by youth, political figures, students, artists and people from various other professions where they to
ok to the streets, chanted slogans of “BJP Go Back”, “Joi Aai Axom” among others expressing deep betrayal of trust from Assam’s Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal and State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, indicating, all love is lost between them and the indigenous people of the state.
The agitators sprayed with colours the freshly painted walls of the city with “NO CAB” messages, burnt the PVC medians (road dividers), damaged bus shelters and other public property, a lot of which was set up and beautified keeping in mind the Indo-Japan meet between Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe in Guwahati. Protests continued late into the night and started early in the morning, dissenting the Modi led Government’s decision to legalize the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
“Sirens continue to wail across the capital city reminding us that not everything is normal. Police continue to roam the city making announcements on loudspeakers making every day a more stressful day than the last,” said a resident of Rupnagar to G Plus. “It is deeply upsetting to see Guwahati in such anarchy. Having lived here my entire life, this is something I have not witnessed in the past 30 years.”
Internet cut off in Assam and parts of Northeast
But how has the administration chosen to tackle this chaos? In a first, mobile internet services were suspended in select parts of Assam and northeast. On December 11, an indefinite curfew was ordered starting 6:15 pm and mobile internet was suspended from 7 pm onwards. But with citizens continuing to have access to broadband and fibre internet, a lot of information continued to flow out of the region. Videos and photographs flooded social media. This was quickly followed by an overnight order to disconnect broadband services across Assam. ISPs such as MNet, Jio Fibre to the Home, Rajdhani Broadband and Amtron were named in an order issued by the Home and Political (A) Department, Government of Assam and were asked to suspend their services from 12pm to 8pm on 13 December, 2019.
While the first order for the suspension of mobile internet was also just for 24 hours, the order was further extended to 14th December, 2019 when the administration failed to take control of the situation.
A Kashmir like situation?
With internet being suspended in Kashmir for several weeks now, speculations are being made if Guwahati too will reel under a similar situation.
“No matter how much the government represses us, this agitation is not going to stop. The people of Assam have come together to fight this repression. This protest is going to overrun the streets and as long as the CAB is in place, we will protest and take it to court,” said Manjit Mahanta, senior journalist and activist to G Plus.
Internet services have also been suspended in the city and curfew has been imposed for the past 3 days. “This only goes to show that the government is scared of the people.
The agitators have defied the curfew and gathered in large numbers. People are not concerned about such repressive orders. The government may believe that disruption of communication will weaken the people’s spirit, but this is the ‘sentiment of regionalism’. There was no internet, WhatsApp or Facebook during the days of Assam Agitation and yet, thousands stormed the streets to participate. Young people have been beaten up and shot. What is the government trying to prove? That they will order and we will obey? That is not democracy, it is autocracy! Sarbananda Sonowal, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Atul Bora, Keshab Mahanta, Phani Bhushan Choudhury and Chandra Mohan Patowary are all agents and brokers of the government who obey everything that the leaders at the Centre order,” he added.
On being asked if Assam could become as unstable as Kashmir, he said, “People of Assam cannot be contained with bullets and sticks. The government’s repressive strategy for Kashmir and Assam could be the same, but Assam and Kashmir are not the same,” he concluded.
BJP government and media blackout
The government’s go-to solution has largely become a media and a connectivity blackout in times of crisis. After repealing Article 370 in Kashmir, an indefinite curfew was declared in the region and internet connectivity was snapped. This autocratic governance has made the headlines quite often, but the leaders at the centre continue to employ this tactic. “Everything is peachy if you can’t see what’s on the other side of the fence. The BJP owns several media and in the past have managed to make difficult situations favourable for them,” said a resident of Guwahati speaking about the internet blackout in Assam. “The national media cannot highlight this if they can’t see this and I think this is what they largely rely on,” he further added.