Last updated on Dec 25, 2017.
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According to the tracking website InternetShutdowns.in, there have been 107 shutdowns in India since 2012, of which 47 have happened in the current year. India witnessed the highest number of shutdowns in the world in the year 2016. While the frequent and high number of internet shutdowns in India has a been a topic of much research and activism, there is little information to shine a light on sensitive geographies within India and from the lens of gender. We’re presenting the findings of our recent study in Imphal, Manipur on the nature and impact of intentional Internet shutdowns on the lives and work of feminist activists. The activists and organisations we surveyed locate themselves in different areas of empowerment of women: relief for victims of domestic abuse, increasing the number of women in governance, economic independence, and so on. Many of the women are also entrepreneurs with small or medium businesses, leveraging the availability of the Internet for one part or another of their business operations, such as seeking microloans and selling their goods online.
Manipur has limited avenues for employment and economic growth owing to the terrain and the prevalent political situation. Additionally, support groups for war widows, victims of domestic abuse, et cetera use the Internet for their activities. Internet shutdowns and poor network connectivity have been detrimental to their efforts and work, causing financial losses to their businesses, curbing their human rights, and disempowering them. This intersection of gender, digital and civil rights, activism, and censorship is further complicated in the region due to the politically sensitive situation prevalent since the 1980s and poor air and railway connectivity with the rest of the country. The findings of our study reveal how the women of Imphal balance the online and the offline and the in-between (bad quality of network services) to manage their lives and livelihoods.
Owing to the complexity of the topic, we would start with an introduction of the demographic and region that we studied and the differentiators from other other interdisciplinary and qualitative studies on intentional Internet shutdowns. Then we should speak about the methodology, findings, the use of the findings for advocacy, next steps in the research, and end with questions from the audience. We also hope to get critical comments and feedback from the audience as the study is a part of an ongoing multi-phase initiative.
Chinmayi S. K. is a computer science engineer by qualification and the founder of The Bachchao Project, a community that works on the intersection of gender and technology. She previously worked as an engineer with Nokia and founded Saakshin, a software services start-up in Bengaluru, India.
Over the past four years, Chinmayi has been a pivotal part of several civil society projects, which involve building technology communities as well as creating technological solutions to address gender and humanitarian issues. She supports the technical and policy needs of numerous groups and organisations such as Internews, Safecity, Breakthrough, Flone, Geeks Without Bounds, and Bailancho Saad. She conducts infosec trainings for grassroots activists and open data professionals, and has held cryptoparties in India. She has helped create opsec for not-for-profit organisations such as Zariya. She writes articles on digital security in various publications and is a part of a team studying privacy issues of mobile phone-based panic buttons in India. In 2016, she received a grant from the US Embassy in Kolkata to support organisations in the northeastern part of India build technologies relevant to their needs through hackathons and events.
Rohini Lakshané is a technologist by training, a Wikimedian, and a public policy researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society, India. She has worked on several research and advocacy projects on the intersection of technology, policy, and civil liberties. Her body of work encompasses diverse territories such as the application of technology and policy to solve issues of gender inequity, violence and discrimination; access to knowledge; openness; patent reform; making tech spaces diverse and inclusive; and the cross-hairs of gender, sexuality and the Internet. In 2014 and 2015, Rohini served on the jury of The Best of Blogs, an international award honouring excellence in online activism, instituted by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. She conducts digital security trainings for journalists, activists, at-risk civil society groups, and the general public. In a previous avatar, she worked as a technology journalist and editor in the print and web domains, ferreting out stories on human interest and online civil liberties.