100 days of Manipur’s internet shutdown: From hilltops to Mizoram in search of network

Journalists, students, businessmen – here’s how the state copes, or falls apart.

WrittenBy:Shivnarayan Rajpurohit
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“I was very emotional,” said Pumsuanlal Samte. “I could not see my first child cry. This is the worst thing that can happen in a man’s life.”

On May 13, Samte became a father for the first time. An employee with a Bengaluru-based business process outsourcing (BPO) firm in Manipur’s Churachandpur, he usually works from home. But that day, he wasn’t around. He had left for Mizoram three days before, undertaking a treacherous journey to save his job.

Samte sells products like mobile phones and broadband services to clients in the US. On May 10, given that mobile and broadband services were snapped across the state due to the ethnic conflict, Samte and two friends headed to Ngopa, one of the closest villages in Mizoram from Churachandpur, to access the internet so he could work.

While he was gone, his son was born.

Samte is not the only person who has travelled to Mizoram or other states in search of internet. Students, professionals and others from Manipur’s hills have taken this arduous road to remain connected with lessons, employers and opportunities for the future.

While the state lifted the ban on broadband services on July 25 after the intervention of the Manipur High Court and the Supreme Court, mobile internet remains suspended 100 days later. India is the internet shutdown capital of the world, and Manipur is the only state after erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir that has completed 100 days of blackout. 

Meanwhile, the ethnic conflict between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities has claimed over 160 lives so far. Houses are frequently set on fire, armed collectives are reinforced by underground groups and the state machinery, and more deaths are reported. Most of the Kukis who once lived in the valley have moved to the hills, while the Meiteis who once lived in the hills have moved to the valley.

But amid this distrust, the digital blackout unites them both. Almost everyone – students, professionals, businessmen, social media influencers – wants it lifted.

Like Samte, who later returned to Churachandpur over the weekend to hold his child for the first time. “I felt like crying,” he said. 

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