Image: SRIJAN, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Following protests that turned in violent across several parts of the country over Indian government’s ‘Agnipath’ military reforms, the govt. has banned as many as 35 WhatsApp groups for allegedly spreading misinformation and coordinating protests.

In case you are unaware of the scheme that resulted in protests in the northern and eastern parts of the country, here is a recap. Agnipath, or “path of fire”, is a pan-India merit-based military recruitment scheme. It is designed to bring more people into the military on four-year contracts and in turn,  lower the average age of the armed forces of the nation.

Agniveers (those who will be recruited under the Agnipath Scheme) will be enrolled for a service duration of 4 years (including the training period). After the duration is completed, only one-fourth (25%) of the Agniveers will be retained or re-enlisted in the regular cadre based on merit, willingness and medical fitness. They will then serve for a full term of another 15 years.

‘Defence experts’ have criticized the scheme, saying that it could weaken the structure of the forces, have serious ramifications for national security, cut down tenure and offer fewer benefits at the end of the contract. It also sparked violent protests across the country as thousands of young men attacked train coaches, burnt tires and clashed with officials.

Once the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) received inputs from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), it issued the orders under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act for disbanding the groups (social media intermediaries must comply with orders passed under this section of the IT Act.)

According to the officials, some of these groups had as many as 300 members and they were being used to coordinate protests which had resulted in violence at certain places. For now, the government will observe the trends on social media over the coming week and will take down any content that will incite violence. It is not known whether any steps have been taken against the administrators of the groups.

The protests will not stop the enrolment under the Agnipath scheme, according to top defence officials, who added that 46,000 cadets will be recruited this year.