Tag Archives: mobile phones

Why Militant Maoists Are Attacking Mobile Phone Towers in India

Photo courtesy of Kadir Aksoy

Early in the morning on September 19, radical Maoists allegedly set fire to three telephone towers and a bus in rural Bihar, India, continuing a trend of targeting mobile towers. From 2008 to 2013, 245 similar attacks were recorded.

Daily newspaper The Telegraph India reports that 20 to 25 Naxalites, as the far-left Maoist guerrillas are also called, raided Goda and Vitiya village in Bihar. They allegedly fired shots close to a local market in response to the fact that shops had stayed open despite a 24-hour strike the day before. The strike (or bandh) was initiated after an altercation on September 13 in which three Naxalites were killed.

The Naxalite or Maoist insurgency, which leaves hundreds of civilians dead each year, is a complex issue dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Naxalite movement began in the town of Naxalbari, West Bengal, in which farmers rose up against oppressive land owners. According to an analysis in newspaper DNA India, “While the Naxalite movement thrives on the original spirit of Naxalbari; the Maoist struggle is an outcome of the 1967 uprising.”

In the last 15 years, the Maoists have advocated for a mass revolution by the people. This has mainly focused on farmers, tribals and indigenous people (adivasis). The aim of the Maoists is to “seize political power through Protracted People’s War (PPW) – armed insurrection,” as V. Balasubramaniyan describes in an article for Canadian geopolitical consultancy GeoPolitical Monitor.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Maoists said they are defending the rights of the poor and marginalized:

They [Maoists] call for a revolution, demanding a radical restructuring of the social, political, and economic order. The Maoists believe the only way marginalized communities can win respect for their rights is to overthrow the existing structure by violent attacks on the state.

The burning of mobile phone towers has been a continuous tactic for Maoists since 2008. They have targeted phone towers on several occasions and in the last four years, Maoists have “blown up” over 200 mobile towers in nine states, according to D. M. Mitra, a former official in the Ministry of Home Affairs and an expert on Indian left-wing extremism. Mitra writes that Maoists alleged that security forces were able to track the location of Maoists with mobile phones.

In an article for Global ECCO (a network for alumni of the U.S. Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program, which funds anti-terrorism training for military officers from other countries) called “The Relevance of Technology in the fight against India’s Maoist Insurgency,” he discusses Maoists use of mobile phones (or lack thereof) in their operational areas. He writes:

They may even kill people they find using mobile phones, on the suspicion that they are police informers.

In 2013, India introduced the Central Monitoring System (CMS), which is meant to allow authorities to access phone calls and communication for the purpose of national security. The CMS offers the government a way to “lawfully” intercept calls, texts and emails; it is considered to be one way the government has responded to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, during which armed attackers left more than 150 people dead.

Also last year, in a report compiled by the Indian Social Institute, a centre for socio-economic development and human rights, the government states the goal of building mobile towers in “remote and inaccessible Maoist strongholds,” with the aim to bring mobile connections to 987 villages of Jharkhand, with a total of 2,200 mobile towers by the end of the 2013.

According the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA):

Maoists recognize the threat that an efficient – or even minimally working – cellular network constitutes to their own security and survival, and have systematically attacked isolated mobile towers wherever possible.

Responses and commentary within social media have been sparse, but the “Naxal Movement in India” does have a community page on Facebook and Twitter responses have included:

Other responses have referenced the violence in response to International Day of Peace on September 21. Writer and disarmament activist Binalakshmi Nepram wrote:

In response to the most recent torching of mobile phone towers in Bihar, police raids are being conducted with patrols in place to find the people responsible.

Women Banned from Using Mobile Phones in Indian Villages

The article originally appeared in Global Voices.

A village council in the Indian state of Bihar banned the use of mobile phones by women in the Sunderbari village, roughly 385 kilometers (239 miles) east of Patna, the capital of Bihar. The population of Bihar is 104 million, larger than any European country and one third the population of the United States.

The most recent ban, comes after a July ban on mobile phones for girls in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh. This was followed by a ban in August on mobile phones for girls under age 18 in Jhunjhunu district’s Udaipurwati in Rajasthan, according to The Times of India.

In Rajasthan, the ban was issued so that girls would not be “spoiled” by excessive use of cellphones. In UP the ban on mobile phones also included a ban on women under the age of 40 going shopping un-escorted by a man. Overall the bans target women’s freedom and mobility. A local resident said:

It has been observed that mobile phones have given ‘unnecessary’ freedom to girls, which is distracting them from following our culture. The Panchayat’s decision will be followed strictly in the village as it has been accepted by all.

Photo courtesy of Gayatri Agnew

In the most recent case, in Bihar, the village officials claimmobile phones were “debasing the social atmosphere” by leading to couples eloping. In recent times the “elopement” from these villages have been increasing rapidly. The council has also imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees ($180) if a girl is caught using a mobile phone on the streets and married women would have to pay 2,000 rupees ($36.60).

Jagmati Sangwan, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said that the men who head such village councils “want women to get cut off from the processes of modernization, education and employment.”  She said they that such laws, targeting only one segment of society, are not legal, according to India Ink.

As Techdirt reported: this is not about “eroding the moral fabric of society”, but about power, and in particular the erosion of traditional male power in the village.

Local officials have begun investigations saying such bans cannot be allowed in a healthy society.

While some twitter reactions from India have been surprised at the ban, and seem to blame it on the predominantly Muslim population of the village, religion does not explain bans in other regions of India.

@Against_Pseudos: Islamic Sharia!! Muslim dominated village in Bihar, Sunderbari, ban girls and women from using mobile phones!

@HeathaT (Heather Timmons): A ban on cellphone use for women & girls in rural Bihar shld spark a write-in campaign to Bihar tourist office: RC http://nyti.ms/TECSFd

‏@subtletea (Sameer Khandelwal): Indian Village Bans Unmarried Women & Girls from Using Mobile Phones. Why not ban it for everyone, irrespective of gender or marital status?

Kavitha Rao notes that mobile phones may be the single most empowering technology for Indian women. In other areas of Bihar, mobile phones are being used by activists and social workers to work on areas such as health and education and it contributed to results such as decrease in maternal mortality rates.

A couple of years ago Contador Harrison Wanarua wrote on a news of a similar ban on mobile phones for unmarried women in another part of Uttar Pradesh:

Only an neo-colonial mentality person can fail to support local women’s rights group criticism of the measure as backward and unfair.

Mobile Phones have played a tremendous role in helping ease communication among people and one cannot discriminate in the use of these contraptions on the basis of sex. If effected this could be a national shame to all mobile industry players…

On Facebook Sethi Mushtaq writes:

This is the real India and not what their Bollywood projects it to be worldwide :P

Let’s hope the real India stops restricting women’s freedom and mobility.