In recent times, Manipur has become a battleground of communal unrest, with a bitter feud between the Meitei and Kuki communities escalating into widespread riots. In a bid to control the situation and curb the spread of misinformation that can fuel the fire of communal hatred, the Government has enforced an internet shutdown. While the intention to quell violence and restore peace is commendable, the far-reaching implications of this strategy on education, livelihoods interpersonal connectivity and essential services beg for closer scrutiny.
In today's digital age, internet access has become synonymous with educational access. As tensions escalate in Manipur, the internet shutdown has had an unintended casualty - students. For students, the internet is not a mere convenience; it's an indispensable educational tool. With schools and colleges relying heavily on digital platforms for learning and assessment, the internet ban has abruptly disrupted the educational journey of a generation. The shutdown has also created barriers to critical opportunities.
Critical academic activities, such as filling out examination applications, accessing learning materials, and checking results, have come to a standstill. Consequently, a digital divide is growing, creating an educational chasm that could have long-lasting impacts on the student community.
The economic fallout from the internet shutdown is another grave concern. The internet shutdown has disrupted services in Manipur. From small businesses trading on online platforms to freelancers working remotely, the shutdown has struck a blow to an already fragile economy grappling with the aftermath of a global pandemic. The shutdown has cut off their online trade and service delivery, leaving them stranded.
Income sources have dried up overnight, leaving individuals and families in precarious positions. As more sectors of the economy become digitally driven, the ramifications of internet shutdowns on livelihoods cannot be ignored.
A World Disconnected
Beyond education and livelihoods, the shutdown has severed the critical lifeline connecting Manipur's Diaspora with their loved ones back home. Friends and family members residing elsewhere in India or abroad have been thrust into a communication blackout, unable to reach out to their loved ones amidst the communal tension.
Additionally, public facilities, such as Government services, online portals, e-banking and information resources, have become unreachable, making it difficult for residents to access essential services and information. The human cost of this digital isolation is immense, and it adds another layer of distress to an already tense situation.
A New Approach
While internet shutdowns may seem like a swift remedy to stem the tide of misinformation, the wider fallout underscores the need for a more nuanced approach. The internet is no longer just a platform for social media; It is a lifeline for education, the economy, and maintaining personal connections. Its abrupt severance has far-reaching, and often overlooked, consequences. Alternatives such as working closely with social media platforms to rapidly identify and remove harmful content or investing in digital literacy programs to help the community discern between genuine and false information, could prove more effective. It's a delicate balance between preserving public safety and allowing access to essential internet services, but one that is crucial in today's interconnected world.
In conclusion, the hidden toll of internet shutdowns in Manipur extends far beyond the immediate goal of curbing violence and preventing the spread of false information. The impact on education, livelihoods, connectivity, communication, and essential services is immense and requires urgent attention. Governments and stakeholders must adopt a nuanced approach that considers the multifaceted consequences and seeks alternative strategies to preserve public safety while safeguarding the digital connections and services that underpin our interconnected world. Only by doing so can we ensure a more inclusive and resilient society that bridges divides rather than widening them in times of conflict and unrest.
The writer is a PhD candidate (Astrophysics) at the Astronomical Institute, Tohoku University, Japan