Asia in Review Archive 2020 (January – June)

India

Date of AiR edition

News summary

18 February 2020

Pakistan & India: Governments adopt strict social media regulations, provoking criticism

(fs/ls) The Pakistani Government passed a regulation concerning social media platforms. Although the cabinet had already approved the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020” [Copy of the Regulation] on January 28, this has only now become publicly known through a leak. Only recently, public allegations came up that the government around Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military were already censoring the media and trying to silence the opposition. [RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty]

As per the new regulation, social media companies will now be obliged to disclose any information or data demanded by any designated investigation agency, whenever asked. Failing to abide by this will attract fine of up to Rs 500 million (3.2 million USD). It also enables the government to ask social media platforms to remove content deemed “unlawful” within 24 hours, in emergency cases six hours. Furthermore, social media companies are required to establish offices with a physical address in Islamabad during the next three months. [Al Jazeera]

The minister of Information Technology Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqi, said that the law is necessary to preserve “the integrity, decency and respect of individuals and the sanctity of institutions” and would help to “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content.” The opposition Pakistan People Party believes that this is about restricting freedom of expression. [The New York Times]

The Committee to Protect Journalists is also asking the government to change course, fearing the restricting of reporting since journalists could no longer protect sources and contacts. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Digital rights activists worry that the new rules will give authorities unlimited power to restrict social media. Digital Rights Foundation speaker Nighat Dad gave a statement saying “the worrying part for is that the definition around extremism, religion or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means they have these unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist or anti-state”. [Reuters]

The Indian government introduced new rules for social media companies and messaging apps, too. They are expected to be published later this month. The new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, as no warrant or judicial order will be required. [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, the Modi administration is currently seeking bids from companies to help set up a National Automated Facial Recognition System. It would match photos captured from CCTV with existing databases, with policing a key potential use for such technology. Critics equate the project with the far larger-scale surveillance system in China. [DW]

18 February 2020

India: Political parties ordered (again) to publish criminal history of their candidates

(ls) The Indian Supreme Court has ordered political parties to publish the criminal history of their candidates for Assembly (i.e. state parliaments) and Lok Sabha (central parliament) elections along with explanations in case they fielded suspected criminals. The information will need to be published in traditional as well as social media. According to data cited in the judgment, in 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them. The decision confirms a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which, however, has widely been ignored. [The Hindu] [Jurist with link to the decision]

18 February 2020

India: Modi’s BJB loses also New Delhi elections

(ls) In last week’s elections in India’s capital New Delhi, the incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (“common man” party) were able to defend their seats in the state assembly. They won 62 of the 70 assembly seats, whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its seats only from three to eight. The result is widely seen as a defeat for the BJB, the latest in a string of setbacks for Modi’s party in regional elections over the past two years. It is also interpreted as a backlash against the government’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. [South China Morning Post]

Nonetheless, Kejriwal said that he intended to work closely with the Central government to develop Delhi in his third term, which has been seen as quite unlike the confrontation that marked his second term in office. He had even invited Modi for the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, but the Prime Minister could not attend. [The Hindu]

Kejriwal is a former bureaucrat and tax inspector who helped launch the AAP in 2012 to rid the Indian political system and government of corruption and inefficiency. He has pushed pro-poor policies, fixed state-run schools and provided free healthcare and utilities services. His popularity in New Delhi’s teeming slums therefore rivals that of Modi. [Al Jazeera]

However, an opinion piece in the New York Times argues that while Modi and his party might have lost an election, they won the ideological battle by setting the terms of electoral politics. For electoral success in India, the article argues, it is no longer acceptable to speak about equal citizenship and political rights of India’s Muslims or speak out against the violence and hostility they encounter. [New York Times]

18 February 2020

U.S. classifies India as a developed country, cutting support

(tk) The Trump administration has declared India a developed country, as it has a share of 0.5% or more of world trade. In 2018, India’s share in global exports was 1.67% and in global imports 2.57%. [The Economic Times

This decision means, India will lose all the benefits it used to receive under the Generalized System of Preference Scheme (GSP). Under the GSP, duties on thousands of products imported from emerging countries like India were eliminated. Until 2018, India received benefits worth up to $260 million, which helped it grow exports at a rapid pace. Without the benefits, Indian companies will be at a severe disadvantage, and exports to the U.S. as its largest importer will come down.

Not only the Indian economy is likely to be damaged by the Trump administration’s decision. It could also harm Modi’s reelection probability, because he might not be able to achieve his plan to turn India into a $5 trillion economy by 2024.

During President Trump’s visit on February 24, India was planning to finalize a limited trade agreement with the U.S. which now stands in question. [CCN]

18 February 2020

India under mounting diplomatic pressure over Kashmir situation

(ls/tk) India is facing increased scrutiny over its handling of the situation Jammu and Kashmir, but maintains that it is a domestic affair. The Modi government rejected a mediation offer from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying the focus instead should be on making Pakistan vacate the territories that it has “illegally and forcibly occupied”. According to the External Affairs Ministry, “India hoped that the UN secretary general would stress on the imperative for Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism against India, which threatens the most fundamental human rights – the right to life of the people of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir.” [NDTV]

Guterres expressed “deep concern” at the heightened tensions, demanding India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory. He also called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which date back to 1948, calling for a plebiscite to be held among Kashmiri residents on whether they would join India or Pakistan. [Al Jazeera]

India also sent a diplomatic note to Turkey over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the Kashmir crisis. Erdoğan said the Indian government’s “unilateral steps” in the region over the years have accelerated the suffering of the Kashmiri people, aggravating the current situation and revoking their freedom and rights. [Daily Sabah]

Meanwhile, Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP from the United Kingdom was denied entry to India. Abrahams has been an outspoken critic of the Indian government for stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomy last August, demoting it from a state to a federal territory, saying the action betrayed the trust of the people of Kashmir. [The Guardian]

11 February 2020

India-USA relations: Tightening relationships to counter China as global power

(tk/jk) President Trump is expected to visit India in late February and sign a limited trade deal with Modi which will be a significant rapprochement after more than a year of escalating tariffs and counter-tariffs. The premise of this relationship is to balance the offensive emergence of China seeking to expand its global reach. 

For President Trump, who has been facing an impeachment trial and is beginning his re-election campaign, even a modest deal with India would allow him to tell voters that his tough talk on trade is working. For Modi, it could help to counter India’s economic slowdown and ease perceptions that his nationalist government is hostile to foreign companies.

Some protestors in India fear an intensification of Modi’s Hindu nationalism as a threat to India’s secular democracy by close relations to President Trump who appeared sympathetic to Modi after he revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and passed a controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims. At the recent “Howdy Modi” event in the US, Trump said: “India and the United States understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders.” [The New York Times] [AXIOS]

India already made the first step in this relationship by giving final approval to a $2.6bn deal to buy military helicopters from a United States defense firm. Those helicopters are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is rapidly expanding its presence. [Al Jazeera]

On a related, yet more domestic note, India has disappointed observers of its defense posturing when India’s finance minister presented the country’s budget earlier in February. The country’s defense budget increased by 5% from last year, but considering inflation observers call this “a cut in real terms” and nowhere near enough to even attempt to address the structural challenges that are there. 

In addition, with an eye on naval competition in the Indian Ocean, the allocations for the various military services remain concerning. The army has received 56, the air force 23, and the navy only 15 percent of the budget. At any rate, at only 1.5 % of GDP overall, India won’t be making any major strides towards modernization of its military any time soon. [Asia Times] [Observer Research Foundation]

11 February 2020

Pakistan: Plea for Kashmir discussion at IOC denied 

(fs) Saudi Arabia again turned down Pakistan’s immediate request to convene a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the current situation in Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized the division between the Islamic countries and stressed the urgency to clear up the issue. He has been lobbying for an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting since India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August last year [The Hindu]

4 February 2020

Is “insurgent constitutionalism” the new form of Indian constitutionalism?

(ls) In an interesting opinion piece published by The Wire, the author argues that, for the first time in the history of the Indian republic, it is not jurists and lawyers who are interpreting the constitution, but street protests. He argues that popular struggle on the streets, campuses, squares, towns and cities, tea shops, clubs and assemblies has found novel ways to bring back the question of justice. The author terms this form of constitutionalism “insurgent constitutionalism”. [The Wire]

4 February 2020

India: Abortion legislation to be eased

(ls) The Indian government has approved extending the legal abortion deadline to 24 weeks from 20. The measure still needs to be approved by parliament. Under current law, terminations after 20 weeks are not allowed unless a mother’s life is in danger. However, many women and girls, including high-profile child rape victims, have sought court permission for later abortions. [Reuters]

Despite government awareness campaigns, contraceptive use in India is not very popular. According to studies, 50% of pregnancies in six of the larger Indian states — Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — are unintended. Responding to these numbers, the proposed law accepts failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion not just in married but also in unmarried women. [Indian Express]

4 February 2020

India: Political functionaries released from six months detention

(tk) After nine political functionaries had been released from detention in Srinagar last month, the Jammu and Kashmir administration released four more political functionaries of the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday, after almost six months of detention. Over three dozen former Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) were among the political activists and office-bearers of various parties who have been detained in August when the government revoked the erstwhile state’s special status of the region. Still, 17 political functionaries remain detained. [The Times of India]

4 February 2020

India: Violence against anti-CAA protesters

(ls) In the continued protests against India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), some incidents have turned violent. In New Delhi, a man fired gunshots at a protest against the law outside Jamia Millia Islamia University. The incident raises concerns that people siding with the government may try to take the law into their own hands to crush any dissent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rejected the protests and described the protesters as anti-nationals. Finance minister Anurag Thakur had encouraged supporters at a rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot. [Reuters]

There have been at least three shooting attacks in New Delhi. The new law seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants of all faiths from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except Muslims. Thousands, especially students, have hit the streets since Parliament approved the law in December. [Bloomberg]

28 January 2020

On the importance of female workers for India’s future economic growth

(dql) Against the background of a lowest growth rate of India’s economy for 11 years expected for 2020 and unprecedented unemployment levels, Ankita Shree underscores the need for an increase in the female workforce as a pre-condition of an economic recovery in India, where women currently contribute to 17% of the national GDP, compared with the global average of 40%. [Asia Dilaogue]

28 January 2020

India: Partly restoration of internet access in Kashmir

(tk) In response to the Indian Constitutional Court’s ruling from January 10, in which it declared the long-term internet shutdown in Kashmir as illegal, low-speed mobile internet was restored on Saturday in Kashmir. Eight million people were suffering from this internet suspension nearly for six months after the Centre decided on August 5 last year to revoke Article 370 provisions that gave the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir special status. [Asia in Review No. 2, January 2020]

The restoration applied to 301 websites approved by the administration including search engines and those associated with banking, education, news, travel, utilities and employment. However, people could not access most of the websites due to the 2G data limitation. Affected people are frustrated and call the restauration “a joke”. They say, “it is just a game to tell people we have restored internet services, but on the ground, it doesn’t work and is of no use”. [The Hindu] [The New York Times]

The partial restauration of internet access was then again interrupted on Saturday evening as a precautionary measure for Republic Day on Sunday. [The Hindu] Officials said, low speed internet service was restored on Sunday evening. [Hindustan Times]

28 January 2020

India announces shortlisted cooperation partners for its submarine acquisition program

(jk) India announced a shortlist of domestic and foreign defence companies for the eventual domestic construction of six diesel-electric submarines worth over US$7 billion. In addition to the domestic companies, original equipment, knowledge and technology-providing companies considered are from Russia, France, Spain, Germany and South Korea. The final selection is not expected to be made before 2022. [Defense News]

28 January 2020

India: Supreme Court refuses to put CAA on hold as protests continue on Republic Day

(tk/jk) The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it will not put the disputed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last month and the exercise of the National Population Register (NPR) on hold. It granted the Government four weeks to respond to the 143 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law. [The Hindu Business Line] The three-judge bench also decided to refer the petitions to a five-judge constitution bench. [India Today 1]

Petitioners are disappointed by the suspension of the decision. To them “justice delayed is justice denied”. In their opinion, the government should demonstrate willingness to seek a judicial closure in the matter that had led to brutal violence throughout the country. [Al Jazeera] [Asia in Review, December/2019, 5]

On January 26, the Indian Republic Day, which Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attended as chief guest [India Today 2], hundred thousands of protesters across India used that day to enter the streets and to express their strong will to continue their protests until the CAA is withdrawn. [India Today 3]

Meanwhile, the Indian government is increasingly refusing the right to emergency health care for some. Medical establishments have confirmed that the police told them not to admit wounded protesters, alleging others would attack ambulances trying to reach victims and block doctors from treating protesters. The approach of the police has support from some hospital owners: “The police were right – a whole mob would have followed the injured people into our hospital if we treated them. It was better for us to send them off.” Art. 18 of the fourth Geneva Convention bars the targeting of medical facilities even in time of war. [OZY]

21 January 2020

UNSC views Kashmir issue as “bilateral”

(tk) Another attempt by China to discuss the issue of Kashmir internationally failed at the UNSC on Wednesday. All other 14 members of the UNSC were of the view that this was not a matter that needed discussion at this point. France, Estonia and the UK called this a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan, to which Russia agreed. [India Today]

21 January 2020

India and Sri Lanka to intensify security cooperation

(ls) India and Sri Lanka are in negotiations to enhance their existing security cooperation. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with recently elected Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed setting up a maritime research coordination center as well as intensifying military and coastguard cooperation. Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India, but China invested and loaned large amounts to the island nation during the decade-long (2005-2015) reign of Gotabaya’s elder brother, Mahinda. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was tilted significantly towards China under Mahinda. In December, Gotabaya said that Sri Lanka would need more financial assistance from China if other countries, particular India and EU countries, do not invest. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, Indian concerns over Chinese ties with Myanmar are growing. Through the construction of the Kyaukpyu port, China will be making its presence felt on India’s eastern flank. India is already wary of China’s presence at Gwadar in Pakistan (in the west) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka (in the south). Though India and Myanmar have conducted several joint military operations along their borders, with China moving in with economic and other incentives, there could be pressures on the India-Myanmar relationship, according to observers. Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited Myanmar over the weekend. [Livemint]

An often-overlooked organization in this region is the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec). Its member states are Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. These countries have been negotiating on and off since 2004 for a free trade agreement (FTA) but differences between India and Thailand over market access remain a major problem. However, in 2017 India made a commitment to hold more regular and high-level meetings. While China is physically disconnected from the Bay of Bengal, Chinese investment has poured into Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where Beijing has made its presence felt. A piece in the Bangkok Post discusses Bimstec’s challenges and chances. [Bangkok Post]

21 January 2020

India: Major differences among UN members over India’s permanent membership in UNSC

(tk) On Thursday, China countered Russia’s backing for India and Brazil’s entry into the UN Security Council (UNSC) as permanent members. From Russia’s point of view, the trend of the global development is the formation of new centers of economic might, financial power and political influence, to which India belongs. China on the other hand, which has veto power in the UNSC being one of its five permanent members, has been opposed to India becoming a permanent member for years. Even though the other four permanent members (US, UK, France and Russia) have backed the reform, China states that “all parties have major differences and we do not have broad consensus on the reform”. In China’s eyes, the reform should enhance the representation and say of developing countries, so that also smaller countries can be part of the decision-making process of the UNSC. [Times of India][Financial Express]

21 January 2020

Japan-India relations: Joint coast guards drill 

(dql) Signaling efforts to strengthen military cooperation between Japan and India, the coast guards of both countries last week took part in a joint anti-piracy exercise off the Chennai coast. It was the 18th exercise of this kind between the two nations and comes amid China’s expanding maritime presence in waters near India. [Japan Times]

21 January 2020

India: New BJP president

(ls) India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected Jagat Prakash Nadda, a veteran lawmaker and long-time associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to become its president. He replaces Amit Shah. One of Nadda’s main tasks will be to increase the party’s profile in several states ahead of a string of elections. Since late 2018, the BJP has lost control of the western states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Jharkhand in the east and Chhattisgarh in central India. Since its national election victory last year, Modi’s government has made a number of controversial decisions, removing special provisions on the disputed Kashmir region, gaining legal approval for building a temple at a contested site in the northern city of Ayodhya, and introducing the new citizenship law. [Reuters] [Hindustan Times]

 

21 January 2020

India: State of Kerala challenges citizenship law in Supreme Court

(ls/tk) In the ongoing tensions about India’s recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the southern state of Kerala has filed a petition with the Supreme Court, asking to review the constitutionality of the Act. The Kerala government argues that the Act violates the secular nature of the Indian constitution and accused the central government of dividing the nation on religious lines. A number of Indian states have already said that they will not implement the law. Besides Kerala, these include West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh as well as Maharashtra. [Al Jazeera]

Kerala’s petition has been filed under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution which empowers the Supreme Court to hear disputes between the government of India and one or more states. The petition states that the CAA violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, the right to life under Article 21 and the freedom to practice a religion under Article 25. 60 petitions filed by individuals and political parties challenging the validity of CAA are already pending before the Supreme Court. [Hindustan Times]

An analysis published on the Lawfare blog establishes a connection between the CAA and another important and related piece of legislation, the 2003 amendment of the Citizenship Act, aiming to create a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC will require every individual across India to demonstrate that they are Indian citizens through certain specified documents, which will be difficult for certain poor and marginalized groups. The author argues that the new CAA might be strategically used to protect (presumably Indian) individuals from six non-Muslim religions who may be excluded from Indian citizenship under the NRC. Thus, a loophole would be created for individuals who are from one of the six non-Muslim religions and have been designated as noncitizens under the NRC process. They could then seek citizenship through the recently passed CAA. [Lawfare]

For another recent analysis of the CAA’s legal and political consequences, see also [The Diplomat].

 

21 January 2020

Bangladesh: Death toll rising on the India-Bangladesh border

(tk) Even though Dhaka and New Delhi agreed on a “zero deaths” policy along the India-Bangladesh border, in 2019 at least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by Indians, which is a threefold increase from the previous year. A Bangladeshi human rights activist explained that no internationally accepted border protocols allow the shoot-to-kill policy that India has been pursuing. A report from the US-based Human Rights Watch said: “Some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed.” 

Many international media and rights organizations have termed this border as the deadliest. This issue is becoming even more relevant since India passed its new religion-based citizenship law that excludes Muslims as immigrants from a new fast-track procedure. Thus, a high number of Muslims emigrating from India to Bangladesh can be expected. [Asia Times]

14 January 2020

India begins implementation of Citizen Amendment Act 

(lf) In Uttar Pradesh, the government has started identifying illegal immigrants who might be eligible for citizenship under the Citizen Amendment Act. Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has experienced extremely violent protests with 30 deaths. Uttar Pradesh has a large Muslim population, who fear the CAA will marginalise them [BBC].

14 January 2020

India: Court rules on internet shut-down in Kashmir 

(lf) Last Friday, the Indian constitutional court has ruled the over 150 days long internet shut down illegal in Kashmir. The court’s ruling states an internet shut down can only be temporary and has ordered the Indian government to review the shutdown immediately. [Reuters 1]

India has also opened Kashmir´s doors for foreign diplomats for the first time since August. 15 countries have followed the invitation of a two days organised trip to the region, which lost its autonomy last August and has since then been under lockdown. The Indian government had been highly criticised previously by several foreign governments for blocking diplomats from the US, UK and Germany from entering the region. While the US has been part of the visit of the delegation to Kashmir, several countries including from the EU have declined an invitation and called the visit orchestrated, as it didn’t allow for free movement of the diplomats. [Reuters 2]

14 January 2020

India urges boycott of Malaysian palm oil after diplomatic tensions

(ls/tk) The Indian government as informally pressured Indian palm oil importers to effectively stop all purchases from top supplier Malaysia, following Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir’s criticism of India’s actions in Kashmir and its new citizenship law. India is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, buying more than 9 million tons annually, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia. The block of imports could push up the country’s palm oil inventories and put pressure on its prices, which set the global benchmark for the oil. [Reuters]

Mahathir said at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in October that India “invaded and occupied” Kashmir. And regarding the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which critics say undermines the country’s secular foundations, he said India was stoking unrest. [Economic Times]

Under Prime Minister Mahatir, Malaysia has been increasingly engaged with Pakistan, while criticizing India’s treatment of Muslims. According to observers, the case is a vivid demonstration that Mahathir’s moralistic rhetoric can have actual costs for Malaysia’s economy. India, however, is reminded that its approach to Kashmir poses complications not only for its domestic politics or alignments with Western countries, but also for select Muslim-majority countries in Asia. [The Diplomat]

14 January 2020

Bangladesh: Deputy foreign minister cancels visit to India

(lf/jk) While the Foreign Ministry has announced the cancellation has nothing to do with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Deputy Foreign Minister is the fourth senior official to cancel a visit to India since the protests started. 

The CAA addresses minority religion refugees – who are not Muslim- that have experienced religious discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Indian government has clarified that persecution in Bangladesh occurred prior to the rule of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hassani, Bangladesh has made clear that it is not happy with the characterisation of a country that discriminates against religious minorities. 

It has also voiced concern over India deporting those deemed “illegal” to Bangladesh and with that putting further strain on bilateral relations. Bangladesh is worried both the NRC and CAA could lead to dramatic increases in refugee flows to the country. [The Hindu] [The Print]

7 January 2020

2019: A year of Internet shutdowns in South Asia 

(lf/jk) As the protest in India continues against the CAA, the police and government have shut down the internet in several provinces. The most recent shut downs have affected the Province of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, where protests have been especially violent and large in scale. As mentioned previously, this is not the first time authorities in India have used this practice and India remains the country with the highest shutdown rates. [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4]

Earlier this year, the Indian government shut down the internet in the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in one of the longest consecutive internet shutdowns in a democracy, lasting since early August [Aljazeera]. India is not the only country in South Asia however that has used internet shut downs. Bangladesh, in the past week, shut down internet access in its border region to India [Businessinsider] [Reuters], and has previously done so in the Rohingya refugee camps where the internet has been cut since early last year [Washington Post]. 

Pakistan, ranking low on Freedom House’s freedom of the net index, [Freedomhouse Pakistan], also has a history of shutting down the internet, as does Sri Lanka. There, officials had cut down social media access to reduce the spread of misinformation after the Easter Bombings last year [CNBC]. Southeast Asian neighbour Myanmar is also known for its internet shutdowns in various states [The ASEAN Post].

Reducing the freedom of the internet and shutting it down altogether to silence oppositional voices is a worrying trend in the region. Overall, 2019 has seen unprecedented lows in internet freedom all across Asia, with several countries seeing their internet freedom decrease [Freedom House].

7 January 2020

Continued protests in India

(lf) As expected, protest in India continue into the new year. One recent clash took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, where several masked men attacked students and teachers. Left and right-leaning student groups at the University blame each other but there is a fear that the BJP wants to silence the anti-government voices within the traditionally left-leaning University. 

While protests at JNU mostly evolved around University fees, and not specifically against the CAA, they are part of larger anti-BJP protests and exemplify fears of escalating violence and lawlessness in the capital, as well as the silencing of opposing views to the ruling party. [BBC1] [The Guardian 1] [BBC2].

In Hyderabad (a city with 40% Muslim population) 100,000 people gathered in peaceful protest against the new law. [The Guardian 2] 

7 January 2020

India: BJP loses another State Assembly 

(jk) Despite Modi’s sweeping victory in the federal elections, the BJP has been removed from several state governments since. Among the key states that have been lost more recently was Maharashtra, a particularly important state due to its elevated economic and financial status. [Asia in Review, No. 49, December/2019, 1]

Last week,  the ruling BJP lost yet another state assembly poll in central Jharkhand State. The BJP’s 25 out of 81 seats were not enough against a tri-party opposition alliance including the main opposition party Congress. [Livemint]