SRINAGAR: Just as I sat down to write about the frequent internet bans and imposition of curfew in Kashmir, the internet was snapped thrice across various districts within a span of a few days. So what is it like to be a student in Kashmir amid frequent internet bans that affect every sphere of life like business, communication and education?

For one, students studies are impacted as information is blocked when internet services are snapped in Kashmir. At a time when students receive all information, be it result status, admission status and other notifications via the university website, the internet blockade snatches facilities from students in Kashmir.

The internet is banned so frequently in places like south Kashmir -- that is known as the hot bed of militancy -- that it has lost its news value.

The internet was blocked more than 30 times in 2017, which means that the internet was down after every 15 days in the year 2017. As per the documented data available, the internet was shut down eighteen times from 2012 to 2015 in Kashmir.

The year 2016 was the worst year in the context of internet bans in Kashmir as it witnessed an internet ban for five months straight after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. This ban is probably the longest internet ban in the world.

For five months schools, colleges and other academic institutions were shut down with no internet access to any student in the valley. As the situation got normalized, students were asked to appear for exams right away without having studied anything for the five months of unrest. Educational institutions further directed students to prepare for exams thorough e-tutorials that they had uploaded which students failed to access due to the internet ban.

Apart from this, the Jammu and Kashmir government in April this year directed service providers in the Valley to block 22 websites, including popular social networking sites like Facebook,Twitter and YouTube, to contain the unrest.

In April this year, In an order issued by the state's home department headed by Mehbooba Mufti herself directed all internet service providers to immediately suspend social networking sites in the Kashmir Valley for a period of one month or till further orders.

Following this order, all social networking sites were banned in Kashmir for the period of one month affecting the normal life in Kashmir and disconnecting students and others staying in other states of Indian and abroad from their families and friends.

Among the internet bans that occurred from 2012 to 2017 in 29 states across India , more than 50% of those bans were witnessed in Kashmir region alone.

Moreover internet is banned every time whenever there is an encounter to curb the mobilization of protesters towards encounter sites. These internet bans -- which usually remain for one or two days -- are mostly undocumented. If these internet bans will be added to the documented ones, the number will rise to the hundreds.

The Citizen spoke to different students of various districts across Kashmir to know how they feel about these continuous internet bans at a time when internet is known as the lifeline for students during exams and otherwise.

Mudasir Ali is a Srinagar based computer science student who describes the internet blockade as an e-curfew which is very frustrating. He says being a computer science student without internet access is paralyzing and ironical at the same time.

“I have personally witnessed a dozen internet bans during my semester exams and I can't express the frustration and resentment it brought. Youngsters in Kashmir are facing the worst when it comes to quality of education and barriers to information as compared to the students outside Kashmir. Potential of our youth is being wasted by disallowing a fair environment to learn and evolve.”

Most of the students who spoke to The Citizen said that the state is using this internet ban as an excuse to crack down on dissent and shutout criticism aimed at the state.

“I don't think internet bans help when it comes to curbing the unrest. Blocking the internet only angers the masses and exposes the incompetence of the government. Today Internet is a basic requirement of students. Students even utilize the internet as a substitution of reading material and reference books as it contains an endless source of learning. Unfortunately we Kashmiri students have been snatched this basic necessity”, Ali said.

Scores of students in Kashmir are pursuing research in various fields and being a Kashmiri researcher amid internet curbs is not an easy task when you have to be in touch with your supervisors continuously and have to do extensive research on your given topic. Muhammad Ibn Manzoor who is a research scholar from South Kashmir’s Anantnag district describes living under internet ban as living in a virtual prison.

“I can’t imagine how the students of Kashmir manage in this virtual suffocation,” Muhammad says. He visited Kashmir last year to collect data for his research that he is conducting in a university in Indore.

While sharing his experience about the frequent internet ban in Kashmir he said, “after collecting data from Kashmir last year, the internet was snapped, which was the only access to my supervisor whom I had to send my paper immediately. I got so much frustrated and worried that I hired a cab to reach Jammu during night hours. I mailed the paper to my supervisor and booked my ticket to the University straightaway. During the whole time, my family was totally clueless about my wellbeing, since mobile services were also blocked.”

Many other research scholars who we spoke to said that they have to face several problems due to this frequent Internet blockade.

Huma Misgar is a Research Scholar from Srinagar, doing her research in Library and Information Science. While sharing her personal experience about internet blockades and how it affects a student here, she said, “I was not able to do my research work since most of our work requires internet connectivity to gather information. Moreover, a researcher always needs to publish the research work before it becomes obsolete. So, a number of publications were submitted to different publication houses when the unrest started last time. But due to the e-curfew imposed on us, it was not possible to communicate with any of those publishing houses and hence our work ended up in trash bin”.

While describing the psychological implications of internet ban on Kashmiri students, she said “Internet ban has a great psychological impact on us. We get detached from our family living far off, with our friends, relatives and to the rest of the world. We become alien to everything that is happening around. Thus, impacting our mental health and academic performance to a great extent.”

Students of the valley have the opinion that blocking the flow of information cannot be a solution to any problem. They say that blockade in the Valley is only giving a tough time to masses and is creating frustration amongst them.

Majority of the students in Kashmir believe that the Internet ban has never been able to curb unrest, in fact, it fuels it. They said that the establishment does not understand or more correctly does not want to accept the truth that this conflict is political in nature and demands a political solution.

Umair Gul from South Kashmir’s Islamabad town, who is a student of Peace and conflict studies, describes the Internet ban as a tactic to further the notion that everything is controlled.

“While as the real spaces have been rigged enough to the extent of rendering them either useless or too controlled, virtual spaces are difficult to manage as alternative voices surface and debunk the statist narratives. Hence internet is snapped and the virtual spaces are made into a null set. As a student , while by a sort of dependency has been created on reading from internet and the uncertainty that looms over it has resulted in a dilemma where by one wishes to completely go offline once for all for the purpose of academics and return only when the internet theatrics and state gimmicks stop.” he said.

There are many students who said that some of their best opportunities were casualties to these internet bans as they lost their chances of applying online to many universities in India and abroad.

One such student is Najam Us Saqib from Central Kashmir’s Gandarbal district who blames the internet blockade for losing a life changing opportunity of studying in a prestigious university outside Kashmir.

“In 2016 after I completed my graduation and applied for various universities outside Kashmir, I got selected in a very prestigious universities but couldn’t join because I failed to access my mail. I received a call letter from another institution which reached me late and I couldn’t make to that university either, courtesy the state’s sanctions on the internet,” Saqib said.

Saqib mentioned his friend who had applied for a short term course abroad. “He was shortlisted for the interview. As it happened, he had to appear for the interview online. The day before he was to appear for the interview something untoward happened in his district. Curfew was declared and internet banned. Now neither could he move out of his house to some other area to appear in the interview not could take it from his home, as a result he lost a bright opportunity to attend that course. All thanks to the state's Internet Ban”.

As the year -- which has turned out to be one of the worst years as far as internet ban is concerned -- is coming to an end, the students find themselves in a lurch and filled with anxiety as they feel that such bans will continue to hamper their studies and future.

With fresh civilian killings -- including two ladies who were killed during different encounters -- in Kashmir triggering internet blockades, it remains to be seen what alternative action the government will take to “contain unrest” without keeping students from the basic right of internet and knowledge in the conflict hit valley.

(Cover photo by BASIT ZARGAR)