It being a backward area, lack of technology and resources hinder development in Kashmir. Primitive communities of underdeveloped countries are regarded to be living in those parts of the country that lack almost all kinds of services and basic needs or even worse. Information society should be maintained because information has a significant impact in ensuring development of communities but this is not the case with Kashmir because of information poverty caused by lack of means to access it.
As Covid-19 has unified the world in fighting the spread of the deadly infection, virtually, Kashmir still lags far behind and is quite outmoded due to lack of high speed internet services.
In August 2019, Indian Government revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status and locked down the region, which has a population of around 9 million. According to a report , nearly 4,000 people have been detained in the disputed region. Among those arrested were more than 200 politicians, including two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, along with more than 100 leaders and activists from All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
The lockdown was followed by the democratic world’s longest internet shutdown, which was partially lifted on January 25 when authorities restored access to 2G internet. But the denial of high-speed internet still prevents people from using banking apps, paying their bills, and accessing services—even forcing some out of their homes. According to the Software Freedom Law Centre, the internet in Kashmir was blocked at least 180 times from 2012 to 2019.
The latest bout of violence in the valley however hasn’t been reported from months, however repeated bans on means of communication in the hope of restoring so-called peace and normalcy in the Kashmir Valley is what the Government has been defending itself with ever since.
A psychiatrist reports that sitting idle at home for months together diminishes creativity. It is the same with students, they’re idle. Neither have they any online classes to attend, nor are they left with Netflix to binge on and spending time playing is not even an option. And it has been more than seven months for students staying home after the Government of India locked down the region to prevent protests against abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. The loss could have been compensated by online classes. But here all of us fail to find logic in restricting internet when everything is fine. “We don’t want schooling getting affected but nobody is paying heed to our pleas,” says Var, a private school association Jammu and Kashmir’s president, who has highlighted the issue with authorities to no avail.
Talking about the health sector here in the valley, as posted by the caring Government is worth a naught. The doctor to patient ratio in the state is amongst the lowest in India. Compared to the doctor-patient ratios of 1:2000 in other Indian states, J&K has one Allopathic doctor for 3,866 people against WHO norm of 01 doctor for 1,000 persons, says a survey.
Medical institutions have described 4G ban a risk factor for COVID-19 deaths in J&K, as the information about WHO guidelines on testing and its countermeasures remained inaccessible in the region. Amnesty International also urged the government to restore 4G internet at such a critical time. Jammu and Kashmir doctors said that “We’ll die like cattle”, if the situation remains like this. Doctors, according to news media, are not able to deal and study about the virus due to non-availability of 4G internet and insignificant information available online. They have clearly expressed their inability to download and access journals and other important information that can prove cardinal in their effort to treat and contain this virus. “This is so frustrating… trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by doctors in England. 24 Mbs per hour…still not able to do so”, a professor of surgery here in Government Medical College Srinagar, tweeted.
So now, in light of the many problems faced by local people in the Kashmir Valley, it becomes the duty of the Government to restore the 4G mobile services at the ease. 2G connections are however restored and the same should be done with 4G. It is high time for the government to think about the 9 million people sailing amidst the lockdown without being accessible to the information on how to be safe, communicate with their loved ones and for students to carry on with shaping their careers.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the editor of the Kashmir Discourse.