Unseen Struggles: How Internet Shutdowns in Manipur, India, Affect Women's Lives

Unseen Struggles: How Internet Shutdowns in Manipur, India, Affect Women's Lives
India Modi, by Varun Vyash via Flickr, 2015


Alexandra Posta

East and South Asia Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defense

Since early May, women in Manipur have been facing significant challenges due to the lack of internet access (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). The absence of online connectivity has made it difficult for them to earn a livelihood, verify information to counter misinformation, and report incidents of abuse (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023).

India had the highest number of internet shutdowns globally for the fifth consecutive year in 2022 and 2023, with frequent and indefinite closures imposed during protests, elections, and exams (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). Despite authorities citing violence as a reason, there is no evidence that shutdowns reduce violence (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). The northeast region, including Manipur, experiences among the most shutdowns in India, adversely affecting its limited internet access and development (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023; AccessNow, 24 May 2023). As digitization progresses under the Digital India program, shutdowns disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, including rural communities and those dependent on social welfare benefits (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023).

Internet shutdowns in India, along with website blocks and social media takedown orders, have a severe and disproportionate toll on women (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). Shutdowns, often on mobile phones, hinder access to education and livelihoods, particularly for rural women (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). Many women in the government's rural employment guarantee program are affected, as digitization leads to attendance checks and wage payments being disrupted during shutdowns (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). In Manipur, women face difficulties in communicating with family, accessing news, and making payments, leading to isolation, fear for safety, and potential cases of assault and abuse (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). The impact on women's lives highlights the detrimental effects of internet shutdowns in India (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023).

For instance, in Manipur, a violent incident involving the sexual assault of two women took place on May 4, 2023 (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). However, due to a state-wide internet shutdown imposed since May 3, aiming to control rumours and violence related to ethnic clashes, videos of the assault only surfaced on social media recently (EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023; Metha, 20 July 2023). A video of the incident went viral and gained national attention on social media after the partial reestablishment of the internet, leading to widespread outrage and protests (Jain, 21 July 2023; EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). As a consequence, women attacked the house of the main suspect involved in the sexual assault case where two tribal women were dragged onto the streets, raped, and paraded naked in May (Jain, 21 July 2023; EcoBusiness, 7 August 2023). The case has raised questions about women's safety in the country, prompting demonstrations in various cities (Jain, 21 July 2023).

Despite witnessing violence and receiving a police complaint in May, the government failed to act until a video surfaced showing the assault on two Kuki women (Ganguly, 21 July 2023). Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the incident, and arrests were made, but the delay in response drew criticism (Ganguly, 21 July 2023; Jain, 21 July 2023). The main suspect was arrested, and three others were also apprehended, while police continue to search for around 30 more involved in the crime (Jain, 21 July 2023).

The use of internet bans as a solution has been questioned, as it restricts access to credible information and exacerbates tensions (Ganguly, 21 July 2023). Civil society activists allege political patronage to violent groups, contributing to divisiveness in the region (Ganguly, 21 July 2023). The government's earlier denials and lack of action have sparked outrage, and survivors deserve urgent protection (Ganguly, 21 July 2023).

The issue of frequent internet shutdowns in India, particularly in regions like Manipur, has severe consequences for vulnerable groups, especially women who face isolation, hindered access to education and livelihoods, and increased risks to their safety. This calls for urgent attention from authorities to reconsider the use of internet bans and prioritize the protection and empowerment of women in these regions. The situation serves as a warning of the detrimental effects of internet shutdowns on marginalized communities and urges the government to adopt alternative methods to address violence and unrest without disproportionately impacting the lives of those already facing significant challenges.


  1. EcoBusiness. (7 August 2023). Manipur assaults show India internet shutdowns hurt women more. EcoBusiness. Available at <https://www.eco-business.com/news/manipur-assaults-show-india-internet-shutdowns-hurt-women-more/>.
  2. Rupam Jain. (21 July 2023). Indian women set fire to house of suspect as Manipur sex assault case triggers outrage. Reuters. Available at <https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indian-women-set-fire-house-suspect-manipur-sex-assault-case-triggers-outrage-2023-07-21/>.
  3. Meenakshi Ganguly. (21 July 2023). Indian Government Finally Responds to Violence in Manipur. Human Rights Watch. Available at <https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/07/21/indian-government-finally-responds-violence-manipur>.
  4. Tanvi Metha. (20 July 2023). India's Modi promises tough action over 'shameful' Manipur sexual assault allegations. Reuters. Available at <https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-pm-modi-calls-manipur-women-harassment-incident-shameful-2023-07-20/>.
  5. AccessNow. (24 May 2023). Weapons of control, shields of impunity: Internet shutdowns in 2022. AccessNow. Available at <https://www.accessnow.org/internet-shutdowns-2022/>.