Now that the Reserve Bank of India’s banking ban on cryptocurrencies has been lifted by a recent Supreme Court decision, there is reinvigorated interest in bitcoin within the South Asian nation. Exchanges can reconnect to banking institutions and offer the support they formerly did to their customers. But what about those who prefer to continue doing business their own way, and privately? This post takes a look at the state of the dark web in the world’s second most populous country, and where it may be heading.
India Ripe for Crypto Proliferation
With a population approaching 1.4 billion, second only to China, the world’s most populous democracy is also becoming a hotbed of tech and startup development. Research and consulting group McKinsey Digital notes that “India had 560 million internet subscribers in September 2018, second only to China … Indians download more apps—12.3 billion in 2018—than any country except China and spend more time on social media—an average of 17 hours a week—than social media users in China and the United States.” The report goes on:
The share of Indian adults with at least one digital financial account has more than doubled since 2011, to 80 percent, thanks in large part to the government’s mass financial-inclusion program, Jan-Dhan Yojana.
Interestingly, the nation appears to be leaping into the future of finance almost in lockstep with crypto’s timeline itself, but there’s been one big roadblock: the Indian government.
A 2018 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ban on regulated financial services supporting businesses dealing in crypto stymied growth and frustrated many. Though crypto was never illegal in the nation, doing business above board and efficiently became extremely challenging for some of those leveraging digital assets to build the economy. With the ban now overturned — at least for the time being — reenergized focus has returned to the sector. But what about that region of the internet that doesn’t pay mind to the dictates of the state?
India and the Dark Web
Just last month India’s Narcotics Control Bureau announced the arrest of 21-year-old Dipu Singh, who Deputy Director General of the NCB Rajesh Nandan Srivastava said, is “a major player on the darknet. His listings were found in one of the biggest and reliable darknet markets like Empire Market and Majestic Garden.” The major dark web-related arrest was reported as a first for India. Singh’s crime allegedly involved dealing in psychotropic substances under the guise of selling remedies for erectile dysfunction, and shipments from the “mastermind” reached as far as the U.S. Srivastava is reported by CNN affiliate News18 as saying:
The payment gateways of cryptocurrency like Bitcoins and Litecoin were used by the operators to conceal the transactions from regulatory agencies.
Indeed, people in India are accessing technologies which can be used for dark web business more than ever. According to statistics garnered from 23,227 respondents as of February last year, India leads the world in percentage of population “who have used technologies that allow access to the dark web,” and the report elaborates: “This statistic presents the share of internet users who have used technologies, such as the anonymity network Tor, that allow access to the dark web as of February 2019, sorted by country. During the survey period, 26 percent of respondents from India stated that they had used such technologies.”
Darknet and P2P Crypto Utility for Evading State Violence
It is undeniable that dark web markets are used for unethical and even abhorrent and violent purposes. The recently reported darknet offer of over 460,000 stolen payment card records from Indian banks is testament to this reality.
However, the less-discussed fact is that state-approved markets and government institutions are used for nefarious purposes as well, and on a much more massive level numbers wise. One need only look at Purdue Pharma’s infamous Oxycontin drug racket unapologetically fueling the United States’ opioid epidemic, or high level Department of Defense ties to child pornography which remain basically unaddressed in the national conversation.
What is not often pointed to in mainstream press is the utility for parallel markets, P2P crypto trading, and the dark web to provide relief from government and financial regulators’ de facto violence against the poor, and everyday individuals seeking to do business peacefully and retain economic viability.
Where India is concerned, a plague of bank closures, withdrawal limits, and cash shortages has put many in financial peril. Leveraging cryptocurrency is one way to preserve value in such a climate, but even this takes some careful treading, as Indian banking customers have had to learn how to hide that their transactions are crypto-related to avoid financial censorship.
While the reversal of the RBI crypto ban may help to alleviate some pressure here, countries like Lebanon, where the state-mandated exchange rate now effectively takes 40% from customer withdrawals, and limits international transfers, show bitcoin has been a safe haven compared to government volatility, and that parallel markets can thrive regardless of legislation.
Without these open markets — even “illegal” ones — many individuals would find their labor, time, and medical needs unable to be met. It stands to wonder what the legal opioid epidemic and worldwide banking emergencies would look like under systems that were more decentralized and independently regulated, where someone could freely purchase safe, “illegal” medicine to ease their pain, or trade in currencies that actually have sound value propositions and underlying mechanics without fear of being caged for doing so. As the growing population of India becomes increasingly tech focused, time will tell how this massive nation decides to leverage peer-to-peer cryptocurrency and dark web capabilities.
What do you think about India’s dark web usage? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Elena Fedorowa, fair use.
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