Why has India blocked mobile internet messaging?

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media captionHardik Patel: "If need be we will not hesitate to take the path of violence"

India's Gujarat state has reportedly shut down mobile internet messaging on WhatsApp after deadly riots - but people there continued to swap messages online.

A curfew has been imposed and the army has been called in - and now authorities have turned off mobile internet access in some parts of Gujarat. Reports differ on how extensive the block is and what exactly it covers, but it appears that mobile messaging has been cut off in the main city of Ahmedabad and other cities. Two days of violence has left eight people dead, although there was calm early Thursday in the ahead of funerals planned for those killed.

The riots kicked off after protests by some from the Patel community, a caste that that makes up about a fifth of Gujarat's population. Although Patels are among the most prosperous people in the region, some argue they are not universally well-off and complain that they are discriminated against because of affirmative action programmes which guarantee school places to those below them in India's complicated social structure.

The protests have been led by a charismatic 22-year-old, Hardik Patel. (You can read a BBC profile of him here.) Patel and his supporters are demanding quotas for Patels - or the "Patidar caste" - in workplaces and colleges. And here's the crucial part as far as the internet blackout is concerned: his movement has been organising using the mobile messaging network Whatsapp. An estimated 300,000 attended a rally in Ahmedabad on Tuesday.

image copyright@scepticgeek

WhatsApp has been closed down, say reports, but there's no indication that other forms of internet access have been restricted. Residents are continuing to communicate on Twitter. The call there seems to be to end the violence. The hashtag #Gujarat4Peace was a top trend on Twitter in Ahmedabad, with more than 35,000 messages using the slogan since Wednesday:

image copyright@pbengani
image copyright@siddtalks

The hashtag was not entirely entirely what it seemed, however; several of the most retweeted messages under the tag were from political activists from one side or another, slinging arguments back and forth.

image copyrightHanada Alrefai

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