After a long time when I tried to use the internet on my laptop thinking about attending a research workshop online and taking some online initiative for people in tribal areas, I had to stop myself because of certain unavoidable reasons. Kashmir most of the time does not have internet facility because of censorship and blockade; and students in tribal areas are generally poor and don’t have access to smartphones even. Leaving this aside, I thought about discussing with my Professor the initiative of uploading e-Content online on the university website for his Masters and Bachelors students, but again I was not able to utilize my time in a better way in Pandemic Covid-19 Crisis. On the one side, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all governments to immediately end any and all blanket internet and telecommunication shutdowns, but unfortunately for Kashmir, it is something else, the approach called “other” in Anthropology. Everyone has the right to receive and impart information. Blunt measures such as blanket Internet and telecommunications shutdowns, sometimes for prolonged periods, violate the principles of necessity and proportionality and contravene international law.
After more than half a year, on February 24 this year, students had returned to schools, but just within two weeks times, educational institutions were ordered to shut down as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus outbreak. Around 13 lakh students are home-ridden now, till at least mid-April, which is expected to continue. Now, for the first time in my life that I see world worrying about something called Corona Virus! I am a researcher and have cried at home. Who would listen to me? I knocked the doors of Advisors to Governor and some other top officials but nobody helped, as they did not feel the pain of a Kashmiri student and were worried about something disastrous happening through the internet. The rulers of the present time and the babus in chair live in comfort zone, how they could understand my pain that I had for education to compete with the students living outside J&K and availing each and every facility. Sometimes as a social anthropologist, I asked to myself, don’t we deserve reservation?
Perhaps it was the best time for the government to restore 4G internet services as they have begun releasing political leaders. Imagine a day-long shutdown of the internet outside Kashmir and the pain people will have! Because of internet blockade students in Kashmir have been affected the most psychologically, mentally, their education, etc.
At present, there are many Non-Government Organizations and individual volunteers who are either planning or have begun to make videos and start online classes for the students in Kashmir. But again it becomes difficult for them to work without 4G high-speed internet. Many schools in Kashmir have the potential to launch online classes for students and many people can voluntarily teach students live on YouTube or other platforms, but when there is no internet facility, it becomes difficult for people even to download pdf assignments that schools send to their children. The long haul has frustrated school management also, as they are unable to deliver online classes, unlike other places.
As per guidelines of the MHRD initiative of online teaching has begun all over India, SWAYAM has tripled the action since lockdown but for Kashmir, the idea cannot be materialized unless and until the 4G network is restored. If the government cannot restore high-speed internet this time, then it should be a solid proof that the blockade of internet was not for bringing so called normalcy but an attack on the education system in Kashmir. My eyes turned wet while watching the media briefing on covid-19 when Dr. Tedros Adhanon talked about his child missing the classes and at the same time I began to think of Kashmiri students how they are going to compete with these students in near future. These students are not attending classes occasionally and Kashmiri students are attending classes occasionally! India has started many good initiatives like happiness curriculum in education, digital India, but where is Kashmir in this?
Let the good sense prevail and Home Ministry understand and feel the pain of the loss of time of the students in Kashmir.
Author is a Researcher in Social Anthropology