Just when Kashmir was beginning to limp its way out of a half-year communication blackout imposed by the Narendra Modi government, it is faced with another spell of lockdown.
Coronavirus, creating a major global disruption, has prompted authorities to declare it an epidemic in J&K. All schools and educational institutions up to the primary level have been ordered shut. Business and public transport has been put on alert to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
As a precautionary measure, a ban has also been announced on the entry of foreign tourists. The government has ordered the closure of all major gardens, hotels and restaurants in Srinagar as additional steps.
Education, which suffered a major blow by continuous lockdown, has proved to be a major black hole in Kashmir. At a time when students in the valley need to continue their studies through distant medium via internet, they bemoan low-speed internet connections
Ironically, the pandemic struck at a time when Kashmiris had just begun to pick up the pieces after months of political turmoil that witnessed a crippling information blackout, curfew, widespread disruption of economic and political life, and a loss of crucial months of academic calendar for students.
Degrees of blackout
Since August 2019 when the Modi government in New Delhi moved in a spectacularly alarming speed to revoke Kashmir’s special status, scrapping the state’s special autonomy guaranteed under India’s constitution, the region has been under varying degrees of communication blackout.
Expecting a backlash, the government quickly put curbs on the internet, despite a global condemnation against the measure. The ban was partially lifted in recent weeks and people got limited access to the internet.
The lockdown in Kashmir has already cost its fragile economy more than $2.4 billion (since the government revoked Aricle 370) as per estimates by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI). With new restrictions around fears of a coronavirus outbreak, experts expect the economic crisis might further intensify in 2020.
Education hit hard
Education, which suffered a major blow by continuous lockdown, has proved to be a major black hole in Kashmir. At a time when students in the valley need to continue their studies through distant medium via internet, they bemoan low-speed internet connections.
Confined to their homes, most students are unable to shift to web lesson plans or access new online classrooms. Low-speed internet is also proving to be a major downer for those wanting to download study material, watch educational videos or simply unwind by tuning into popular streaming services to beat the stress around the pandemic.
In Kashmir various professionals like doctors have been unable to network with their counterparts elsewhere in order to spread awareness locally about the latest on coronavirus. Lack of functional internet makes it nearly impossible for many to work or communicate properly from home.
Restoring full access
As with other parts of the world, Kashmir needs its religious leaders and influencers to get back on social media to advise against gatherings to keep the transmission of virus in check. Information and awareness is the key here.
That may not happen urgently enough and quickly enoughly without full-speed internet services. Many Kashmiris with relatives and friends living in other parts of India or overseas, find it hard to connect with their loved ones, especially in view of the widespread global fears around the virus.
With the administration stepping up its efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is finally time for the government to restore full internet connectivity in Kashmir.