manipur map IFF logo

If you're reading this right now, it's because you're not one of the 2.7 million people of Manipur, many of whom have been without access to the internet for 100 days.

The shutdown began on April 27, 2023, with the Manipur State Government suspending mobile data services in the districts of Churachandpur and Pherzawl amid protests and incidents of violence. On May 3, 2023, as the violence both spread and intensified, the State Government issued a shutdown order suspending mobile data services for the entire territorial jurisdiction of Manipur for five days. The following day, it issued an order barring all internet services in the state, including broadband connectivity and VSAT, for five days. Until July 25, 2023, successive orders have been issued to extend the shutdown, in what is the fourth longest internet shutdown in Indian history.

Wait, isn't the shutdown being lifted?

On July 25, 2023, considering “the suffering of the Common” and complying with the directions of the Manipur High Court, the Government of Manipur issued an order lifting its suspension of broadband services in a “liberalised” manner, provided that users meet a list of conditions. The order—made available only via news outlets and not uploaded on any government website—stated that mobile internet services would continue to be suspended amidst apprehensions of the spread of disinformation and false rumours. The order merely mandated the further suspension of mobile data services and internet/data services, without providing any particular endpoint for this suspension.

After July 25, no new internet suspension orders seem to be available in the public domain. But there continues to be no access to mobile internet services in Manipur. It is critical to note that if no new orders have been issued after July 25 and if mobile internet continues to be suspended on the basis of the order issued on July 25—the ongoing internet clampdown in Manipur is illegal and unlawful; violating the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 and the Supreme Court's ruling in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, which declared indefinite internet shutdowns illegal and imposed an obligation on authorities to publish suspension orders.

Despite its claims of lifting the suspension of broadband internet in a “liberalised” manner, the order sets out conditions that users must fulfil before they can access the internet—ranging from expensive (paying to set up static IP connection) to restrictive (social media platforms and VPNs remain banned) to highly invasive (agreeing to physical monitoring by state officials and MAC binding of devices). These measures are ultimately unlikely to ameliorate internet access conditions in the state.

In a country like India, where the Internet is overwhelmingly accessed through mobile devices and broadband Internet is accessible only to the affluent, the continued suspension of mobile data services may essentially result in complete Internet shutdown for the majority of the population. According to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 96.13% of internet connections are mobile internet connections, compared to 3.74% of wired connections.

percent desktop

Cut, Copy, Paste And Publish

In India, governments cannot shutdown the internet indefinitely, nor can they do so in secrecy. In 2020, the Supreme Court, in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, ruled that an indefinite internet shutdown is illegal and directed that internet shutdown orders must be made publicly available. IFF filed RTI applications with the Manipur Home Department and Manipur Legal Affairs Department on July 27, 2023, requesting information and documents pertaining to the internet shutdowns and findings of the Review Committee on the legality of shutdowns imposed. We have received no response from the authorities yet, despite the 30-day timeline to respond to RTI applications. Moreover, in June 2023, we filed an RTI application with the Manipur Home Department to review the state's compliance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India. Since no reply was forthcoming from the concerned authorities, we filed a first appeal, for which we are still awaiting a response.

Until July 25, while no orders had been issued for an indefinite shutdown, it had nonetheless acquired an indefinite character. By extending the shutdown every five days through templatised orders, the State Government had effectively imposed an indefinite internet shutdown that had no clear end in sight. The orders also provide no indication of when the shutdown could be lifted and use a template formula and copy-paste language with minimal application of mind, a flagrant violation of the directions issued under Anuradha Bhasin.

We have been unable to find any shutdown orders issued after July 25, 2023, either on the websites of the Manipur State Government or through news portals and social media. Alarmingly, the July 25 order, while partially lifting the suspension of broadband internet services, continued the shutdown of mobile internet services without specifying an end date. If no new orders have been issued after July 25, 2023, and yet mobile internet continues to be shut down—the ongoing internet shutdown in Manipur is illegal.

An internet shutdown has real and profound consequences for the people it impacts. A prolonged, seemingly indefinite shutdown leaves a devastating, long-term effects on communities, economies, and societies. Despite the repercussions demanding a high degree of care and consideration, the State Government has been issuing what is essentially the same order multiple times, with little else but the dates changed. Such ‘copy-paste’ orders indicate a non-application of mind, as the law and the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India require them to explain why the internet suspension is necessary, unavoidable, and the least intrusive remedy.

The only procedural safeguard afforded by the Telecom Suspension Rules against internet shutdowns is in the form of a Review Committee, headed by the State's Chief Secretary, which must meet and determine the legality of the internet shutdown orders. Disappointingly, there is no record of Manipur's Review Committee ever meeting or considering even one of the several subsequent internet shutdown orders that have been routinely passed by the Home Department of the Manipur Government.

Do Internet Shutdowns Work?

The Government of Manipur has justified its imposition of an internet shutdown as necessary to maintain law and order, as “anti-social and anti-national elements” use social media to spread disinformation and false rumours or hate speech to incite violence.

But do internet shutdowns work like that?

Research demonstrates that they may not.

Jan Rydzak employs quantitative methods to examine the relationship between internet shutdowns and collective action events in India. His findings show that shutdowns are more strongly associated with an increase in violent collective action as opposed to nonviolent mobilisation, and thereby, prolonged shutdowns appear to further entrench unrest instead of quelling it. In a similar vein, rather than compelling rioters to prematurely cease operations, shutdowns are found to push collective action towards greater violence which requires less coordination and communication.

Nishant Shah, a Professor of Global Media at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, makes a case against internet shutdowns as a tool to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Although a commonly cited justification, Shah argues that an internet shutdown should not be equated with an effective information blackout, as communities are able to adapt and build offline information ecosystems. Instead, during a shutdown, individuals lose the very tool that makes it possible for them to verify and evaluate information— the internet.

Shah reframes the internet shutdown as the “(dis)information blackout” an information blackout where only a few authorised and authoritative information streams are allowed to circulate. It is a critical apparatus that uses literal network disconnection to create “filter bubbles” of curated information that produce singular narratives and reinforce “official” channels of information.

A report by the UN Human Rights Office, calling for an end to internet shutdowns, warns that internet shutdowns “very rarely meet the proportionality test”. The Report refers to internet shutdowns as “powerful markers of deteriorating human rights situations” and notes that their use to stop the spread of hate speech or disinformation is incompatible with human rights standards, and because of the fear and uncertainty they instil, shutdowns may actually worsen the spread of hate speech and disinformation.

It seems as though governments would be hard-pressed to back up their claims for such a prolonged internet shutdowns. Reportedly, when questioned about the effectiveness of internet shutdowns by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in 2020, representatives of the Union Home Ministry and Delhi and Bihar State Governments were unable to provide metrics to gauge effectiveness but continued to maintain that they were essential to maintain law and order. In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee instead found that the powers of internet suspension were misused by State Governments, leading to huge economic loss, untold suffering to the public, and serious reputational damage to the country.


While internet shutdowns may project an image of control and proactivity, as a report by the UN Human Rights Office has noted, shutdowns cause “incalculable damage” which “exceed any hoped-for benefit”. Media coverage emerging from Manipur paints a picture of a state in crisis, where an internet shutdown has worsened hardship at every turn.

The right to access the internet has been recognised by the United Nations, given its proximity to other fundamental rights, such as the right to free expression and the right to freedom of assembly. In 2020, the Supreme Court of India recognised the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet as constitutionally protected. In shutting down the internet, the State Government has deprived the people of Manipur of these rights for 100 days and counting.

Internet shutdowns disrupt economies on a massive scale—from interrupting financial transactions to creating a climate of uncertainty that discourages investment. The economic shocks arising from internet shutdowns are felt over a long period of time and can worsen existing social inequalities.

Digital Transactions

Digital transactions are brought to a standstill making it near impossible to receive salaries and pay for goods/ services in our increasingly digitised modern economy.

“We are not talking about less demand, there is no service”

- Henry Thangboi, who deals with Royal Enfield motorcycles in the Churachandpur district.

“Transactions have become a problem. Even receiving money has become problematic, as cash is only sometimes available. For a simple mobile recharge, we have to ask friends from outside Manipur to do so”

- Thomas, runs a business on marble and granite located in Imphal.

Remote Working Professionals

Remote working professionals are disproportionately impacted by a lack of network connectivity which obstructs their ability to receive instructions, complete tasks, and relay output back to colleagues.

“I fear my office will send me a termination letter soon. My work has been severely affected due to the internet ban that has been in effect in Manipur since last month”

- Biplob Singh Huidrom, a communications professional at a software firm.

“The shutdowns put remote-working professionals at a high risk of unemployment with several reportedly already being laid off"

- Moirangthem Sudhakar, a spokesperson for the All Manipur Remote Working Professionals.

Local Businesses

Local businesses are significantly impacted by their inability to reach their consumer bases both within and beyond the affected region, accept online payments, and file taxes.

“We are not able to make online payments, and submit GST [goods and services tax]. This ban has shut down our business almost completely. Our customers are from outside Manipur and almost all the work we do is based on the internet. When there is no internet, we don't have any other means to communicate with our customers.”

- Manmeet Singh Arora, Vice President of the Manipur Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Loss of Foreign Investment

The risk of losing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is heightened not only due to the barriers to completing financial transactions but also because foreign companies often rely on anti-corruption indices to estimate credibility which are in part determined by ‘access to information’ indicators which are compromised during shutdowns.

The Flow of Remittances

The flow of remittances is halted with the suspension of online banking services which further comprises the financial insecurity and instability affected populations must contend with.

Impact on Professional Efficiency

Professional efficiency is compromised for all within an affected area and can have further trickle-down effects on an individual or organisation’s credibility affecting not only future business prospects but also work-life balances and mental health.

“The phone connection is bad and bosses need to repeat calls to have a single conversation and it leads to bad communication.”

- Quote from an earlier study from Manipur conducted in 2018

“Sometimes we have to read [aloud] an entire document through [over the] phone due to bad Internet connections, when we are unable to send mails.”

- Quote from an earlier study from Manipur conducted in 2018

The bottom line: When all these factors take place simultaneously, an affected region is at risk of both increased inflation and unemployment. Together, these conditions not only cripple the local economy in the short term but also set back the region's long-term economic growth and exacerbate socioeconomic inequities.

economic cost visual

All data for the construction of these graphics is sourced from Top10VPN's annual Cost of Internet Shutdowns Reports which calculates its estimates of the economic impact of internet shutdowns using the COST Tool developed by internet monitoring NGO Netblocks. Key indicators included in their calculations include data from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and US Census. Beyond instances of internet blackouts, they also include instances of social media shutdowns and severe ISP throttling due to the equally disruptive impact they have on economic activity.

This data was recognised by the Parliamentary Standing on Communications and IT, which also noted further that “as per Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), telecom operators reportedly lose INR 24.5 million per hour in every Circle Area where there is a shutdown or throttling. Other businesses which rely on the internet could lose up to 50 per cent of the afore-mentioned amount.

It has been estimated that, in 2023, internet shutdowns have cost India $312.6 million so far. This number, while alarming on its own, may also fail to capture the complete cost of an internet shutdown. Media reports have also social and psychological costs of the shutdown, which are disproportionately borne by already-vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Relief Work

The internet shutdown makes relief-work more difficult amid ongoing violence in Manipur. Shutdowns also impact the efficacy of crisis interventions.

“I work with [victims of] domestic abuse and child victims of trafficking. Bad networks affect my work because I can't communicate [with the victims or my colleagues]. It affects the cases, especially it leads to loss of information when talking with the victims. The lapses in the information has [sic] sometimes led to the cases failing in court. Sometimes I could not reach the location for rescues in time because of the bad network. During some incidents when people have contacted me, I was not reachable. The incidents blew out of proportion because of lack of intervention by me.”

- Quote from an earlier study from Manipur conducted in 2018

“Internet shutdown has made it more difficult to raise money for relief work from outside Manipur. Because of the shutdown, they have been raising money door-to-door, But because the state is in a limbo, people have suffered economically as well. They don't have money to donate.”

- Lainzalal Vaiphei , Convener of a relief camp

Online Censorship

Internet shutdowns are an extreme form of online censorship that curtail the right to freedom of expression, a right which is particularly critical in situations of political unrest. It prevents the dissemination of critical and potentially life-saving information. Shutdowns have also been used as a tool to evade accountability. Without the internet, individuals and civil society organisations are often unable to document and share evidence of human rights violations. This is particularly concerning as a day after the state-wide shutdown of mobile data services, the Manipur state government issued a “shoot-at-sight” order that was condemned by Amnesty International as a “flagrant violation of human rights law and standards”. Internet shutdowns make it difficult for journalists to do their jobs. Reportedly, according to a memorandum submitted by the Editors Guild Manipur and the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union to the state IPR minister, the internet shutdown has made it impossible for them to update the software used to broadcast TV news.

“By and large it [internet shutdown] is being weaponized to subdue narratives that are not in the authorities' political interests, and to shut down dissent or critical voices such as voices who ask questions or seek accountability.”

- A human rights activist in Manipur told HRW and IFF for their joint report published in June 2023

“Media reports are often published days after the incident. The internet cut-off was one of the biggest challenges as it has become an essential commodity for us reporters, reporters would file stories through text messages or phone calls.”

- Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times.

“This is a social media era. All the important updates are made on social media, including by the government, which uses it to post all its notifications. We are totally unaware during internet shutdown. We have no idea what is going on.”

- A Manipur-based journalist, who asked not to be identified, told HRW and IFF

Impact on Education

Shutdowns disrupt education for students both in and outside of the state. In Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala, in September 2019, the Kerala High Court recognized the right to have access to the internet as a part of the right to education as well as the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“I have taken a loan from my friend to pay my house rent. We are currently concerned about the ongoing university exams because we are traumatised by what is happening around us and back at our hometown.”

- Seilenmang Haokip, a 25-year-old final-year law student at Delhi University.

“My son is keen on pursuing his bachelor's degree either from Delhi or Bengaluru. And nowadays, all form filling for admission to these colleges is done through the internet. But due to net being cut off in the state we have not been able to access information on online form submission, cut off marks last date for application in colleges in major cities of India that are outside Manipur.”

- Grace Paite(name changed), a resident of Lamka, a town in Churachandpur.

Access to Healthcare

Internet shutdowns disrupt the delivery of healthcare and other essential services, compounding the difficulties experienced by people in Manipur.

“Because of the Internet suspension, I was unable to place the orders for a month, nor have I been able to make my last payment. I could not reach out to people who could have supported the relief efforts, either.”

- J.Haokip , who runs a charity in Churachandpur and is helping supply medicines and rice to the relief camps.

The Kripadashini Advanced Hospital & Research Institute, Imphal, appealed to the State Government to lift the internet shutdown as beneficiaries under the Chief Minister-gi Hakshelgi Tengbang (CMHT) scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana scheme have been unable to access their benefits, as both schemes rely on the internet for registration and the processing of claims.

The Gendered Impact of Internet Shudowns

Internet shutdowns disproportionately impact women, as they lose an important tool for safety and communication. Women are also severely affected by the economic harms that are caused by shutdowns, as they are often in more precarious economic positions compared to men.

“The shutdowns also have an “adverse impact on women's ability to feel safe and restrict their freedom of movement.”

- Jayshree Bajoria, Associate Director at Human Rights Watch in Asia.

“In Manipur, the shutdown means that women cannot communicate as easily with their families via WhatsApp, check the news, make and receive payments on the phone, or even recharge their mobile SIMs.”

- Ninglun Hangal, Works with Development Nonprofits.

State Social Protection Measures

Internet shutdowns impact state social protection measures. One of the key findings from Human Rights Watch and IFF’s joint report on internet shutdowns was that internet shutdowns can deny vulnerable communities access to basic human rights and social protections that are guaranteed by the state. As government schemes become platformised and digitised, losing access to the internet means losing access to vital social protection measures.

“All the government schemes are now dependent on the internet, so you can no longer get access to any of it without internet; even getting food rations require biometric authentication.”

- Laavanya Tamang, a Nonprofit Organisation that works on improving public service delivery in India.

When we weigh all the costs of an internet shutdown, largely borne by ordinary people, against its benefits, which are, at best, speculative, it becomes clear that an internet shutdown is not a proportionate response.

The Government of India launched the Digital India scheme in 2015 with “a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society”. Two of its key vision areas, in apparent recognition of the transformative power of the internet, are to make digital infrastructure a “core utility” to every citizen and the digital empowerment of citizens. That same year, there were around 14 internet shutdowns imposed in India. Today, India has the dubious distinction of being the internet shutdown capital of the world. On one hand, the Indian government pushes its citizens toward a techno-solutionist utopia of digital governance, biometric surveillance, and datafied administration; on the other hand, it keeps poised over the proverbial internet killswitch, ready to pull the trigger.


Wholesale suspension of internet services being imposed by democratic governments should never be the answer for quelling issues of public order or prevention of misinformation. The harms associated with lack of access to internet services outweigh the harms associated with access to the internet. In view of this, the following recommendations may be considered by the State to overhaul as well as democratise the process -


The Review Committee constituted under Temporary Suspension Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, should comprise of non-executive members, for example, including a retired High Court Judge. As it currently stands, the decisions of the Review Committee raise a perception of bias on account of conflict of interest as it is required to review the orders which are issued by its own arm of the government.


In rare situations, rather than imposing a blanket shutdown, selective restriction of specific services or websites may be considered. A Consultation Paper released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommends selective banning of OTT messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram. However, reasons should be provided to correlate the banning of the service in question with the objective that is sought to be achieved.


In line with the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology on “Suspension of Telecom Services and Internet and its Impact”, the Department of Telecommunications or the Ministry of Home Affairs must maintain a centralised database of all internet shutdowns that are imposed by States. Maintenance of such a database will allow policymakers, researchers and other civil society activists to access accurate data pertaining to the suspension of internet services.


A complete overhaul of the 2017 Rules to codify defined parameters that can be stated to fall within the contours of “public emergency” and “public safety” - grounds on which internet shutdowns may be imposed. This is to prevent suspension of internet services being directed on the basis of subjective assessment of the issuing authority.


Citizens who are affected may utilise mesh networks, such as Bluetooth, to communicate without having to rely on the internet or short message service (SMS). Though access to the internet remains impeded, it does aid in facilitating digital communication.


Designed and developed by an incredible team of volunteers:

IFF logo

All content on this site is CC-BY, unless otherwise stated