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Agarwal, Ritesh Budget Travel Hotels and Travel Lodgings India Layoffs and Job Reductions Oyo (Oravel Stays Pvt Ltd) SOFTBANK Corporation Start-ups Uncategorized

Oyo Scales Back as SoftBank-Funded Companies Retreat

MUMBAI, India — Oyo, once one of India’s fastest-growing tech start-ups, is now rapidly scaling back.

In recent weeks, Oyo, a budget hospitality company, has pulled out of dozens of cities, cut thousands of hotel rooms, started laying off employees and slashed other costs as it faced pressure from its biggest investor, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, to curb vast operating losses.

The retreat has been swift and sweeping. In India alone, Oyo has lost more than 65,000 rooms — or about a quarter of what it had offered to travelers — since October, according to internal data from current and former employees that was reviewed by The New York Times. This month, Oyo also stopped selling rooms in more than 200 small Indian cities, according to company documents and one current employee and one former employee.

The moves come on top of more than 2,000 layoffs around the world, which Oyo began rolling out last week, according to six current and former employees. Before the cutbacks, Oyo had about 20,000 employees in 80 countries.

Oyo said some of the data obtained by The Times was inaccurate but declined to be specific. In an email to employees on Monday, Ritesh Agarwal, the company’s chief executive, said Oyo was focused on sustainable growth and profitability — which meant layoffs.

“Unfortunately, some roles at Oyo will become redundant as we further drive tech-enabled synergy, enhanced efficiency, and remove duplication of effort across businesses or geographies,” he wrote in the email.

The Economic Times, an Indian publication, first reported in December that job cuts at Oyo were coming.

Oyo’s actions are part of a broader pullback by start-ups funded by SoftBank. Armed with a $100 billion fund known as the Vision Fund, SoftBank has shoveled money into start-ups across the globe in recent years. That has given many young companies fuel to expand, often with little thought for profit.

Last year, some SoftBank-funded start-ups began running into trouble — most notably WeWork, the office space company, which failed to go public when investors began questioning its losses. WeWork ultimately ousted its chief executive and slashed its valuation to less than $8 billion from $47 billion.

WeWork’s fall led to questions about other start-ups that SoftBank had financed and whether those young firms could make money. Last month, the dog-walking service Wag underwent several rounds of layoffs before SoftBank sold its shares at a loss. The construction start-up Katerra, another SoftBank-funded company, also cut its staff.

This month, layoffs have gathered momentum at start-ups that SoftBank had invested in. The South American delivery service Rappi and the San Francisco car-sharing start-up Getaround said they were laying off employees. Zume, a company that used robots to make pizzas and had been valued at $2 billion, cut more than half of its work force. It also stopped making pizzas.

Some investors and start-ups said they were now approaching SoftBank’s Vision Fund cautiously — or, in some cases, avoiding it altogether.

“We have advised almost all of our companies to steer clear,” said Josh Wolfe, an investor at the venture capital firm Lux Capital who has been critical of SoftBank’s strategy. “Everyone else was fearful to say the emperor had no clothes.”

SoftBank declined to comment on Oyo and other start-ups in which it has invested.

Mr. Agarwal founded Oyo in 2013 to organize India’s small independent hotels into a chain. The company markets rooms online and takes a cut of each stay. Mr. Agarwal, who has become a business star in India, has said he aspired to make Oyo the world’s largest hotel chain by 2023, displacing Marriott.

But as Oyo tried to expand globally, in part pushed by SoftBank, it spent heavily on incentives to attract hotel owners and customers to its site. That resulted in losses in India, where Oyo has said it will lose money through at least 2021.

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s chief executive, began investing in Oyo in 2015. SoftBank and its Vision Fund now own half its stock. While Mr. Son has called Oyo a jewel of his fund and urged it to grow quickly, he has since changed his stance.

As Oyo’s losses have mounted, senior leaders at the company have told employees that SoftBank had demanded that it become profitable on a basis known as EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — by mid-2020, according to current and former employees.

In another sign of SoftBank’s shifting position, Yahoo Japan, which is half-owned by SoftBank, pulled the plug in November on a Japanese apartment-rental venture with Oyo. Most of the Oyo employees involved in the Japan venture have been laid off or relocated, current and former employees said.

Oyo faces other troubles in India. On Friday, the Indian income-tax authorities visited the company’s headquarters just outside New Delhi, requesting reams of documents. The tax department and Oyo said the government was examining whether the company was properly withholding and remitting income taxes on payments to vendors.

The Times reported this month that Oyo had offered thousands of unlicensed hotel rooms and sometimes offered free rooms to government officials to deter enforcement. The Times also described how some Oyo employees worked together to commit fraud against the company.

In his email on Monday, Mr. Agarwal said the behavior described by The Times would violate the company’s code of conduct. “We take all the allegations very seriously and are looking into each and every one,” he wrote.

To stem losses, Oyo has also cut back on staff and supplies such as mineral water and cleaning fluids in the hotels it runs itself, according to the current and former employees. Oyo staff members managing some of the hotels have been instructed to save more money on electricity bills by switching off lights, elevators and even boilers for hot water, they said.

Morale has plummeted among thousands of Oyo workers globally, current and former employees have said.

Prabhjeet Singh, an Oyo business development manager who left the company in September, said employees who criticized the company ran a greater risk of losing their jobs.

“It’s a culture of silence,” he said.

Oyo’s reputation has deteriorated so much in India that other employers are reluctant to hire its former workers, said Mr. Singh, who has been unable to land another job.

“They look at me as if I’ve done a crime working at Oyo,” he said.

Vindu Goel reported from Mumbai, Karan Deep Singh from New Delhi and Erin Griffith from San Francisco.

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Welcome to India, Mr. Bezos. Here’s an Antitrust Complaint.

MUMBAI, India — Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is visiting India this week for the first time in over five years.

Instead of garlands, India’s government is welcoming him with a new antitrust case.

The Competition Commission of India, the country’s antitrust regulator, opened a formal investigation on Monday into the practices of Amazon and Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant mostly owned by Walmart.

The inquiry was prompted by complaints from an association of small traders, after several rounds of regulations failed to curb the market power of the two e-commerce platforms, particularly in the online sales of mobile phones. Indian merchants have lobbied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take tougher action against the companies.

India requires foreign-owned e-commerce firms to be neutral marketplaces, much like eBay, to protect local retailers and distributors from deep-pocketed competition. In the United States, Amazon both operates a marketplace and sells many products — including diapers, batteries and books — like a traditional retailer, buying them wholesale and then reselling them to consumers. Under Indian law, the site is supposed to rely on independent sellers who post their products on Amazon.

But both Amazon and Flipkart give preference to some sellers, the Indian regulator said, by using affiliated companies, discounts and their global relationships with manufacturers to influence who sells what and at what price.

For example, Amazon sells its own brands, like AmazonBasics luggage and Solimo paper products, on its Indian site through companies in which it holds an equity stake. And Flipkart features a small group of preferred, high-volume sellers on its service.

The commission will investigate whether those arrangements violate India’s antitrust law.

India is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing markets as well as an important location for its customer service and research operations. But Mr. Bezos has made just three trips to the country.

On Wednesday, he is expected to discuss opportunities for small businesses on Amazon at a conference in New Delhi. He is also expected to meet Mr. Modi and plans to travel to Mumbai, home to India’s Bollywood film industry, to rub elbows with Bollywood stars like the actor Shah Rukh Khan and the director Zoya Akhtar.

In a statement, Amazon said, “We welcome the opportunity to address allegations made about Amazon; we are confident in our compliance, and will cooperate fully with C.C.I.”

Flipkart said it was complying with all laws in India governing e-commerce and noted the large number of sellers on its platform. “We take pride in democratizing e-commerce in India,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, faces other antitrust inquiries around the world. The scrutiny in Europe and the United States has also focused on its relationship to its third-party sellers, which account for about 60 percent of sales.

The Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary Committee are examining whether Amazon treats unfairly sellers that do not use some of Amazon’s services, such as its fulfillment network. The European Union’s antitrust commission has opened an investigation into whether Amazon misuses information from its marketplace sellers to decide what products it sells directly to customers, including its own private-label offerings.

Amazon has maintained that it faces strong competitors, such as Walmart, and is a small player in the overall retail market, which is still dominated by physical stores.

Karen Weise contributed reporting from Seattle.

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At SoftBank’s Jewel in India: ‘Toxic’ Culture and Troubling Incidents

NEW DELHI — Oyo, a start-up that offers budget hotel rooms, has grown into one of India’s most valuable private companies and aims to be the world’s largest hotel chain by 2023.

But at least part of Oyo’s rise in India was built on practices that raise questions about the health of its business, according to financial filings, court documents and interviews with 20 current and former employees, as well as others familiar with the start-up’s operations. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the company.

Oyo offers rooms from unavailable hotels, such as those that have left its service, according to the company’s chief executive and nine of the current and former employees. That has the effect of inflating the number of rooms listed on Oyo’s site.

Thousands of the rooms are from unlicensed hotels and guesthouses, its executives have acknowledged. To deter trouble from the authorities over the illegal rooms, Oyo sometimes gives free lodging to the police and other officials, according to nine of the current and former employees and internal WhatsApp messages viewed by The New York Times.

Oyo has also imposed extra fees on hotels and declined to pay the hotels the full amounts they claimed they were owed, according to interviews with hotel owners and employees, emails, legal complaints and other documents viewed by The Times. Some hotel operators have sought to file criminal complaints against Oyo, which said it withheld payments primarily over the hotels’ customer service issues.

“It’s a bubble that will burst,” said Saurabh Mukhopadhyay, a former Oyo operations manager in northern India who left the company in September.

It would also be another black eye for SoftBank, which is Oyo’s biggest investor and owns half the start-up’s stock. Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s chief executive, has hailed Oyo as a jewel of his company’s $100 billion Vision Fund, even as he recently wrote off billions of dollars on other investments like WeWork.

“This is the only company which went global at this scale from India,” Satish Meena, a senior forecaster for the research firm Forrester in New Delhi, said of Oyo. “But as of now, there are serious doubts about the business model.”

SoftBank declined to comment.

Ritesh Agarwal, Oyo’s chief executive, acknowledged in a recent interview that some of his company’s room listings included hotels that it no longer worked with. He said Oyo left those listings up and marked them as “sold out” as it tried to woo the hotels back.

Aditya Ghosh, Oyo’s head of India operations, also said in an interview that many hotels lacked required licenses, leaving them vulnerable to the occasional government raid. He denied that Oyo gave free rooms to officials.

Mr. Ghosh dismissed what he called “noise” from hotels about extra fees and nonpayment of bills. “The disagreement is about the penalties we charge on customer service failure,” he said.

He added that nearly 80 percent of Oyo’s employees had been at the company for less than a year, so training has been a challenge. “We have just grown very, very fast,” he said.

Founded in 2013 by Mr. Agarwal, then a 19-year-old student, Oyo set out to organize India’s budget hotels, which have traditionally been small, family-run enterprises. The company coaxes the hotels to become Oyo-branded destinations that list exclusively through its website; it then markets those rooms online to travelers and takes a cut of each stay. The start-up also runs some hotels itself.

Oyo is trying to expand globally and now offers more than 1.2 million rooms in 80 countries, including the United States. It employs more than 20,000 people and has raised more than $2.5 billion in funding. Mr. Agarwal has become a business star, hobnobbing with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

But as Oyo has grown, its losses have mushroomed. The company expects to lose money through at least 2021, according to recent government filings. Some efforts to expand in countries like Japan have flopped.

In December, SoftBank and Mr. Agarwal put another $1.5 billion into Oyo to accelerate its expansion. The funding, negotiated over the summer, valued the company at $8 billion.

At the same time, two other big investors, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners, reduced their holdings. The venture capital firms, which both hold board seats at Oyo, sold $1.5 billion of their stock — about half their stakes — to Mr. Agarwal. He borrowed money to buy the shares and paid the venture firms a price that valued Oyo at $10 billion.

Lightspeed and Sequoia declined to comment.

The current and former workers said that Oyo was never an easy place to work but that pressure increased over the last year.

Mohammad Jahanzeb Gul, who joined the start-up in January 2019 and supervised 23 Oyo properties, said that during the nine months he was there, he sometimes spent all day and night in front of a computer to meet deadlines.

“The culture is really very toxic,” he said.

Mr. Mukhopadhyay, who began working at Oyo in August 2018, said employees were under so much pressure to add new rooms that they brought hotels online that lacked air-conditioning, water heaters or electricity. He and eight others said their managers had asked them to engage in a monthly shell game of briefly inserting these unavailable properties into Oyo’s listings — complete with fake photographs — to help impress investors.

Mr. Ghosh, who left the India job this week and joined Oyo’s board, said that some hotels open in stages and that “there is no padding.”

Saurabh Sharma, who worked for Oyo from 2014 to 2018 as an operations manager, said the company sometimes deliberately withheld payments from hotel owners — a practice that half a dozen other current and former employees also described.

In some cases, they said, the start-up wanted to squeeze the hotel owners into renegotiating contracts that it deemed unprofitable. In others, Oyo wanted to save money and figured that most owners would not press for full payment.

“If 1,000 people shout, we will pay 200,” Mr. Sharma said Oyo managers had told him.

In a police complaint filed in November, Betz Fernandez, owner of the Roxel Inn in Bangalore, said Oyo owed him $49,000 and acted with “intention to cheat and cause wrongful loss” by charging him for nonexistent guests and refusing to pay the contracted minimum monthly payment. Oyo said the dispute was in arbitration.

Oyo’s oversight of its workers was also sometimes so lax that employees brazenly stole from it, said four people who were involved in the start-up’s fraud-fighting efforts.

Because Oyo hotels are popular with unmarried couples looking for places for their trysts, one scheme involved workers at properties run directly by the start-up colluding to keep the guests checked in after they left. The workers then cleaned and resold the rooms for cash to other guests and pocketed the money, the people said.

Oyo has conducted surprise raids at some properties, seizing employee cellphones and checking rooms and records for evidence, they said.

An Oyo spokeswoman said it investigates all fraud accusations and had in some instances fired employees.

Executives have also asked employees to paper over troubling incidents, some workers said.

Mr. Mukhopadhyay said that one night last June, a long-term guest at an Oyo-run property in Noida, near New Delhi, called him. She said three men had raped her in her room.

The next morning, Mr. Mukhopadhyay and another Oyo employee were summoned to the police station, where they pleaded with the guest not to register a formal complaint. Oyo’s legal team also instructed them not to tell anyone about the incident because it could hurt the company’s image, he said. The guest withdrew the complaint and moved out.

In a telephone interview, the guest confirmed Mr. Mukhopadhyay’s account. Oyo disputed some details and said any decision to file a complaint was up to the guest. The Noida police said they had no record of a complaint.

To placate the authorities over unlicensed properties, Oyo managers also gave the police and other government officials free rooms on request, current and former employees said. They said the details were recorded in dedicated WhatsApp groups, one of which The Times reviewed.

Mr. Ghosh said, “We do not encourage or involve ourselves in any kind of bribery or graft.”

Mr. Mukhopadhyay said Oyo’s growth practices contributed to his decision to leave.

“There’s something called integrity,” he said. “I can’t compromise on that.”

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Rocket Launches, Trips to Mars and More 2020 Space and Astronomy Events

If you follow space news and astronomy, the past year offered no shortage of highlights. Astronomers provided humanity’s first glimpse of a black hole. China landed on the moon’s far side. And the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing inspired us to look ahead to our future in space.

The year to come will be no less eventful:

  • No fewer than four missions to Mars could leave Earth this summer.

  • NASA may finally launch astronauts into orbit aboard capsules built by SpaceX and Boeing.

  • We expect to learn more secrets about the interstellar comet Borisov.

  • And private companies are working to demonstrate new abilities in space.

However much you love space and astronomy, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest news in orbit and beyond. That’s why we’ve put dates for some of these events on The Times’s Astronomy and Space Calendar, which has been updated for 2020. Subscribe on your personal digital calendar to be automatically synced with our updates all year long. (We promise not to collect any personal information from your private calendar when you sign up.)

[Sync your calendar with the solar system.]

Below are some of the launches, space science and other events to look forward to.

Roughly every two years, the orbits of Earth and Mars come closer than usual. Space agencies on Earth often send missions to the red planet during that window, and in 2020 four such launches are scheduled.

Three of the missions will carry rovers. The United States is launching the soon-to-be-renamed Mars 2020 rover, which also carries a small helicopter. It will try to land in Jezero Crater, which once contained a lake and could preserve evidence of life, if life ever existed there.

Neither China, Europe nor Russia has deployed a rover on the Martian surface. But they will try, in a pair of missions. China’s mission, its first on its own to the red planet, includes an orbiter in addition to a rover. The European Space Agency and Russia cooperated to build Rosalind Franklin, a rover named for the English chemist whose work was essential to finding the structure of DNA.

The rovers could be joined on Mars by Hope, an orbiter commissioned by the United Arab Emirates. It is being built in Colorado, and is to be launched on a Japanese rocket. If it succeeds, it could represent a new model for space programs, in which small, wealthy countries pay for off-the-shelf spacecraft to get themselves into orbit and beyond.

Since the space shuttle’s last flight, in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for trips to and from the International Space Station. In 2019, NASA hoped to begin flying astronauts aboard capsules built by two private companies, SpaceX and Boeing, but persistent delays knocked back the timeline another year.

NASA’s commercial crew program could finally achieve its goal in 2020. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is scheduled to conduct an uncrewed test of its in-flight abort system on Jan. 11. If the test succeeds, the capsule could carry astronauts to the space station not long after.

Boeing’s Starliner experienced problems during its first uncrewed test flight in December and was unable to dock with the space station. An upcoming review of that test will determine whether Starliner might still be able to fly into orbit with astronauts in the first half of this year.

Virgin Galactic, the space-plane company run by Richard Branson, conducted two successful test flights with crew aboard in the past 13 months. In the year to come, the company could carry its first passengers to the edge of space. Blue Origin, the company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, may follow suit; it has conducted 12 crewless tests of its capsule for short tourist jumps to suborbital space. For now, only the very wealthy will be able to afford such jaunts.

Other private companies are looking to Earth orbit for the future of internet service. SpaceX launched 120 Starlink satellites in 2019 and could launch many more in 2020. A competitor, OneWeb, could send more of its satellites to orbit in the coming year, too. These companies are blazing the trail for orbital internet — a business that Amazon and Apple are also pursuing — and upsetting astronomers, who fear that large constellations of internet satellites will imperil scientific study of the solar system and stars.

In September, a comet called Borisov 2I was spotted in our solar system, only the second ever confirmed interstellar object. Unlike Oumuamua, which was spotted in 2017 only as it was leaving the solar system, astronomers caught sight of Borisov and its 100,000-mile-long tail as it flew toward the sun, before it turned and began its exit.

In 2020, scientists will continue to point ground and orbiting telescopes at Borisov as it speeds back toward the stars beyond — unless, as some astronomers hope, it explodes into fragments after being heated by the sun. Whatever happens, other interstellar visitors are sure to follow, and professional sky gazers hope to find them with powerful new telescopes in the years ahead.

Before the end of 2020, the moon could see one more visitor from Earth. Chang’e-5, a robotic probe built by China, aims to collect moon rock and soil samples and send them back to Earth. The last set of lunar samples was gathered in 1976 by a Soviet spacecraft.

The year to come may also bring greater clarity about American designs for returning to the moon. NASA is aiming to put the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, with a program called Artemis. A wide range of political, budgetary and technological hurdles stand in the way of meeting that ambitious timeline.

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Assam State (India) Computers and the Internet Demonstrations, Protests and Riots India Kashmir and Jammu (India) Uncategorized Uttar Pradesh State (India) West Bengal (India)

India Adopts the Tactic of Authoritarians: Shutting Down the Internet

NEW DELHI — As the government of India pushes increasingly provocative policies, it is using a tactic to stifle dissent that is more commonly associated with authoritarian regimes, not democracies: It is shutting down the internet.

India tops the world — by far — in the number of internet shutdowns imposed by local, state and national governments. Last year, internet service was cut in India 134 times, and so far this year, 93 shutdowns have occurred, according to SFLC.in, which relies on reports from journalists, advocacy groups and citizens.

The country’s closest competitor is Pakistan, which had 12 shutdowns last year. Syria and Turkey — countries not especially known for their democratic spirit — each shut down the internet just once in 2018.

“Any time there is a sign of disturbance, that is the first tool in the toolbox,” said Mishi Choudhary, founder of SFLC.in, a legal advocacy group in New Delhi that has tracked India’s internet shutdowns since 2012. “When maintenance of law and order is your priority, you are not thinking about free speech.”

Last week, citing a threat of violence and false rumors, authorities in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura in northeast India severed connectivity in response to protests against a new citizenship law that critics say would marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. Much of West Bengal and parts of Uttar Pradesh, two of India’s most populous states, were also put under digital lockdown.

With the Kashmir region still languishing offline since August, at least 60 million people have been cut off — roughly the population of France.

These moves come as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tightens his grip on India. His administration and its allies have jailed hundreds of Kashmiris without charges, intimidated journalists, arrested intellectuals and suppressed gloomy economic reports. His critics say he is undermining India’s deeply rooted traditions of democracy and secularism, and steadily stamping out dissent.

With half a billion Indians online, the authorities say they are simply trying to stop the spread of hateful and dangerous misinformation, which can move faster on Facebook, WhatsApp and other services than their ability to control it.

“A lot of hate and provocative stuff starts appearing on messaging services, particularly WhatsApp,” said Harmeet Singh, a senior police official in Assam, which borders Bangladesh and has been one of the hot spots of protests against the citizenship law.

But as the internet becomes more integral to all aspects of life, the shutdowns affect far more than protesters or those involved in politics. The shutdowns can be devastating to people just trying to make a living.

In Kashmir, internet service was stopped on Aug. 5, when Mr. Modi’s government suddenly revoked the area’s autonomy, sent in thousands of troops, and disabled all communication, stifling public dissent. The internet has now been off 135 days. Some people even take a short flight to the next state just to check their email.

“There is no work,’’ said Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, the president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce. He said thousands of entrepreneurs, especially those who make silk scarves and handicrafts, relied on social media to sell their products online.

“The dignity of these people has been taken away,’’ he said.

While many of India’s shutdowns have been intended to prevent the loss of life, some occurred for more mundane reasons, like to make it harder for students to cheat on exams.

The legality of India’s internet shutdowns has not been tested in court. All shutdowns are supposed to be authorized by top state or national officials. In practice, most are ordered by local authorities, sometimes with just a few phone calls to local service providers.

The effectiveness of these shutdowns isn’t clear. Research by Jan Rydzak, a scholar at Stanford University, suggests that the information vacuum caused by an internet shutdown can actually encourage violent responses.

On Tuesday, fresh protests broke out across the country once again over the citizenship law. In Kolkata, protesters blocked highways, and in New Delhi, police officers clashed with demonstrators, firing tear gas and tugging away participants by the collar of their jackets.

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, opposition politicians led rowdy rallies against the new citizenship law, Citizenship Amendment Act, which favors non-Muslim immigrants seeking citizenship in India.

Many people are also upset about the National Register of Citizens, a citizenship review process that has already left nearly two million people in Assam potentially stateless. Amit Shah, India’s home minister and Mr. Modi’s right-hand man, has vowed to take the citizenship reviews nationwide.

Many Indians, especially members of the Muslim minority, believe that with the new measures, the Modi government is plotting to strip away rights from Muslims.

They fear that the government could force citizenship reviews on all Indians and that Hindus without proper papers would be allowed to stay in India while Muslims without proper papers would be asked to leave.

Mr. Modi and his allies deny this, saying they are simply trying to address illegal migration and help persecuted minorities at the same time.

Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have roots deep in a Hindu-centric worldview that believes India, which is 80 percent Hindu, should be a Hindu homeland. Some of their biggest moves, including the crackdown on Kashmir, which was India’s only Muslim-majority state, have been widely seen as intentionally anti-Muslim.

In West Bengal, which is about 27 percent Muslim, violent protests around these policies erupted on Friday. Protesters ransacked more than a dozen train stations. By Sunday, the authorities shut down the internet for more than one-fourth of the state’s 90 million people.

Sujauddin Shekh, a college teacher in Murshidabad, said the shutdowns have left many people unable to know what’s going on.

“People in this region are largely dependent on Facebook and WhatsApp for the news,” he said.

There is no doubt that a lot of potentially dangerous information flows freely through India’s cyberspace, especially during crises. Take the example of the five women filmed rescuing a friend from being beaten up by police during a protest. Overnight, they became heroes — and targets.

On Sunday, videos went viral showing the five young women, students at a predominantly Muslim university in New Delhi, forming a protective circle around a young man as police officers beat him with wooden poles.

Several officials in Mr. Modi’s party tried to sully their reputations; one wrote a tweet calling them “rabidly indoctrinated Islamists.”

There is no evidence of that and in fact, one of the girls, 20-year-old Chanda Yadav, is a Hindu.

Ms. Yadav said the campaign to discredit her has been almost too much to bear. Still, she wants to speak out.

“This fight is about India as a secular nation, an India where we all belong,” she said.

But in places where the internet has been cut off, it’s harder to freely debate these questions.

On Dec. 11, the authorities in Assam shut down everything but a government-run landline internet service, which was necessary to keep banks, universities and other institutions online. On Tuesday, they restored most landline internet service, but mobile internet, which is how most Indians stay connected, remained off.

“Peace is more important than a little inconvenience to you and me,” said Mr. Singh, the Assam police official.

Jeffrey Gettleman and Maria Abi Habib reported from New Delhi, and Vindu Goel from Mumbai. Shaikh Azizur Rahman contributed reporting from Kolkata, Sameer Yasir from New Delhi and Suhasini Raj from Guwahati.

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Uber in Talks to Sell Its Food-Delivery Business in India

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber is in advanced discussions to sell its food-delivery business in India, according to two people with knowledge of the plans, as the company moves to stem its losses.

The ride-hailing company is nearing a deal to sell its Uber Eats service in India to Zomato, an Indian food-delivery service, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly. The sale could be announced as early as this week, they said.

A spokesman for Uber declined to comment. The talks were earlier reported by TechCrunch, which said a deal would value the India business of Uber Eats at $400 million.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, has been trying to pare back money-losing businesses to prove to investors that the company can turn a profit. Investors have agitated both in public and behind the scenes for Uber to clean up its balance sheet since it went public earlier this year.

Uber’s initial public offering in May was a disappointment, with the company’s shares immediately plunging as investors questioned how much money the ride-hailing service loses. That event marked a turn in sentiment around high-profile-but-unprofitable tech start-ups, many of which had burned cash for years in the pursuit of growth. WeWork, another highly valued start-up, later shelved its plans for an I.P.O. as private investors cut the company’s valuation to a fraction of its former worth.

Investors have recently homed in on several issues at Uber, according to two people briefed on the conversations. Those include continued regulatory challenges around the world — most recently, transportation authorities said they would not extend Uber’s taxi license in London, one of its biggest markets — and ballooning expenditures.

Some investors have privately grumbled that Uber also paid too much for Careem, a Dubai-based ride-hailing and delivery company that Uber announced this spring it would acquire for $3.1 billion.

According to two people familiar with the matter, investors have also privately complained to Mr. Khosrowshahi about the expense of its Advanced Technologies Group, which develops self-driving vehicles. No decisions have been made about the unit, these people said, which has more than 1,000 full-time employees.

While Uber Eats has been a bright spot for revenue growth, the company has offered subsidies and free promotional offerings to gain new users, which has been expensive. In a conference call with investors last month, Mr. Khosrowshahi said his plan for Uber Eats was to take first or second place in every city it operates.

“If we can’t make it to that level, we’ll look to dispose or we’ll get out of the market,” he said at the time.

In India particularly, Uber Eats has struggled to sign up restaurants, diners and delivery agents in a brutally competitive market where Zomato and other delivery start-ups like Swiggy are well established. Uber has had to offer heavy incentives to lure customers there.

In September, Uber also announced that it was pulling its Eats business out of South Korea, where the company faced stiff competition from local start-ups.

Mr. Khosrowshahi has previously retreated in ride-hailing in Southeast Asia, where the company faces difficulties competing. In 2017, under then-chief executive Travis Kalanick, Uber pulled out of China, where the company was burning billions of dollars. That same year, Uber largely withdrew from Russia.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco and Katie Benner from Washington. Vindu Goel contributed reporting from India.