NAMIT KUMAR | 30 DECEMBER, 2019
‘Internet access for college students is much more than a need, it’s a way of life’
NEW DELHI: On December 16 the internet blockade imposed in Kashmir became the longest ever imposed by a democratic state, at 134 days.
The Software Freedom Law Centre, which tracks internet shutdowns here, also told Reuters that governments have imposed over 373 internet shutdowns in India since January 2012, over half of them (180) in Jammu and Kashmir.
The ongoing internet blockade has had an unprecedented impact on educational institutes and students alike.
A professor from the University of Kashmir, who wished to remain unnamed, recounted the widescale impacts of the blockade to The Citizen: “The science which we have been doing has been affected a lot. Imagine a biological science researcher who had set up an experiment and suddenly the government announces an internet blockade or a curfew.”
“Who will compensate for the time, effort and energy that went into setting up the experiment? For a researcher aiming to communicate his research to a journal it is almost impossible,” the professor said.
The University of Kashmir publishes 21 research journals on subjects ranging from Oriental Science to Danish.
The professor further said, “For people working on big data analysis, machine learning, earth observation or climate sciences, who require massive data downloads, the internet gag is almost strangulating every aspect of their research.”
He further commented on the apparent discrimination in the shutdown: “The travesty is that internet has been fully restored in NIT Srinagar, while the oldest university of the state, the University of Kashmir at Hazratbal, Srinagar is still barred.
“This is disgusting when you hear the logic: that since UoK is politically more active than NIT, the administration can't allow free internet access at University of Kashmir.
“As a result people move out to other states to access the internet for data downloads or research communication.”
Adnan, a Kashmiri law student at Amity University, Noida told The Citizen about the conditions of local as well as outstation students who don’t have a good internet connection:
“Nowadays, internet access for college students is much more than a need, it’s a way of life. We need the internet to complete assignments and watch lectures, to watch movies and stream music in our downtime, and to keep up with family and friends.”
Adnan further recounted, “During internet shutdowns, we are not updated with anything about what is happening around the world. The national media does not show anything, local newspapers help a little bit but then there are restrictions, phone calls help sometimes but phones are also down and the internet too.
“We don’t have any touch with family. I myself last talked with my parents just 25 days after the abrogation of Article 370.”
He went on to say that “Students of Kashmir are feeling helpless and hopeless. They don’t have anything there now. No schools, no colleges, no jobs. Since August 5 there has been a complete shutdown in every sector. My words will not do justice to describe the situation of students in Kashmir.”
Taskeen, a masters student in political science at the Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi recounted the various difficulties she had to face to be matriculated into the programme.
“I had been waiting for the results of my entrance exams in Delhi University and Jamia Millia University. Checking websites became difficult, nor could I contact my friends outside to update me about the results.
“I was waiting at home helplessly for the restoration of the internet, I was really stressed and unable to fathom what to do,” Taskeen said.
“Earlier, I was considering to continue my masters in Kashmir but due to the siege I definitely could not consider the option. Because my friends who are studying there have not completed their bachelors yet; they joined college 6 months before me and even after 4 months they are still waiting for their exams to be held.”
Describing the situation after the shutdown, Taskeen said “I was really stressed. I was told that internet would be restored after August 15 but that did not happen. So finally we went to the District Collector’s office in Srinagar, we had got to know we could make phone calls from there.
“I tried to contact my friends, I saw N number of people over there crying over the phones while communicating with their loved ones. I was really overwhelmed seeing the hardship people were going through,” she said.
“I feel sad about how we have negated the idea of education in Kashmir. We don't give importance to overall development. It has merely become about passing a class and promoting the next class.
“The paradox is that these very state officials will promote the overall development narrative in their interviews,” Taskeen remarked.
Even after making it to Delhi, while staying with a friend in the city Taskeen continued to face problems.
“The real struggle started in Delhi after so many applications from the residential commissioner’s office and my frequent visits to Jamia University did not seem to bear any fruit. I was told every time that the Vice-Chancellor will decide and she is not in the country.”
She added, “Besides this, when I requested that my advisor consider my case due to the situation prevailing in Kashmir, I was told that my accent does not ‘sound Kashmiri’ and was asked, ‘Do you want to make Jamia Kashmir?’”
“I used to wait every time to receive one phone call from my parents which would come after 2-3 days, and every time I would cry over the phone. I don’t have the words to explain how it felt, not being able to talk to your parents and at the same time handling the disappointment of waiting,” Taskeen said, summing up her predicament.
Education is not the only sector to have reported setbacks since the central government’s communication blockade over the Valley. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently reported a $2.4 billion loss (₹17,000 crores) to the Indian economy since Parliament unilaterally stripped the region of its special status under the Constitution.
Local journalists and news websites as well as the online versions of local newspapers have also suffered. The newsmagazine Kashmir Life has claimed that many local reporters and members of the media have lost their jobs and been forced to seek employment in other sectors.
The United Nations Human Rights Office has publicly criticised the situation prevailing in Kashmir, urging the Indian authorities to “unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied” to Kashmiris.
(Cover Photo: BASIT ZARGAR)