India just turned off mobile internet for 63 million citizens amid protests in Ahmedabad

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Mobile internet services have been blocked in the Indian state of Gujarat (home to nearly 63 million people), following violent protests led by the Patel community after one of its leaders was detained by local police in Ahmedabad.

22-year-old politician Hardik Patel, the convener of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, led a rally to demand Other Backward Class (OBC) status for members of the Patidar community, in order to level the playing field in the competition for enrollment at universities and jobs in government organizations.

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After he was detained on Tuesday, Patel sent out messages via WhatsApp urging citizens to maintain peace:

I make an appeal to maintain peace and keep calm. I give a call for Gujarat bandh tomorrow (Wednesday). This decision has been taken by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti considering widespread violence in the state.

Patel’s supporters have been using WhatsApp extensively to broadcast videos and make media announcements.

According to NDTV, a police officer said, “Last night, there were concerns of rumour-mongering and crowd mobilization through WhatsApp.”

The officer added that the service will resume only after the situation returns to normal. However, other reports indicate that all mobile internet services have been blocked across the state.

A slice of Ahmedabad. Gujarat is home to India's current Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Credit: Emmanuel DYAN
A slice of Ahmedabad. Gujarat is home to India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Patel’s agitation aims to draw the nation’s attention to one of India’s major quandaries. While many members of his community are wealthy and politically influential, thousands of families are poor and don’t have easy access to quality education and high-paying jobs.

As the Patels are regarded as well off, all members of the community — including those from lower income groups — have to compete with citizens from across the country for a chance at proper schooling and lucrative careers.

It’s easier for groups with OBC and similar statuses, as seats at universities and jobs are reserved for them and often have significantly lower educational requirements.

Restricting access to internet services isn’t the answer to such issues. Indian politicians need to encourage public debate and participation in creating policies that ensure equal opportunities for everyone.

Gujarat Bandh: WhatsApp and Mobile Internet Suspended as Hardik Patel Rally Turns Violent [International Business Times]

Image credit: Shutterstock
Article image credit: Emmanuel DYAN

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