Srinagar: Many times in the past month, Pulwama resident Faizan ul Haq has been trying to apply for various universities outside Kashmir. The 22-year-old recently completed his bachelor’s in arts from the Pulwama college, and now is looking for better opportunities for his master’s degree. The reason he had to try multiple times is not that he lacks the necessary documents. Slow, 2G speed internet in the Valley – which has crippled the lives of everyone – has foiled his attempts.
The speeds are so slow that the websites of universities like Jamia Milia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Indian Statistical Institute, which have called for the admission for the year 2020, takes hours to load. Sometimes, when one tries to register, after a few steps, the website gets redirected to the homepage. The message, ‘Please check your internet connection’, is then displayed.
“I don’t think with 2G speed, anyone can avail online registration. It is very unfortunate that we are forced to use the Internet with such speed while trying to things that have a huge impact on our future,” said Haq.
“The reason I want to opt for universities outside the Valley is that here, we don’t have a favourable environment to study or to focus on our books,” said Haq. It took him almost four years to complete his three-year-degree in the Pulwama College, which he believes he would have finished on time if he had enrolled outside the Valley.
In July 2019, 24-year-old Javid Nisar, a student from Anantnag, subscribed to an online course on Unacademy, a website that helps people prepare for examinations. The course cost him Rs 30,000 per year.
He used the course for a month, but in August 2019, the Centre diluted Article 370 and revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. A communication clampdown meant that people in the Valley did not have access to the Internet for seven months, the longest shutdown in the Valley. Nisar was unable to attend these online classes.
Annoyed with this, a few days ago, he opened tweeted to principal secretary (planning) Rohit Kansal, who recently denied that the government had any plans to restore 4G speeds. Nisar wrote to him, “I had taken a yearly subscription on Unacademy for Rs 30k, my preparation was going smooth till the unfortunate ban on the Internet from last 7 months.”
He said that he felt helpless and couldn’t control his emotions, “I was hoping to prepare for civil service exams but my dreams are dashed because of the internet restrictions.”
He told The Wire that the government’s logic for restricting the internet is absurd. “In the garn of national security, why are they ruining thousands of careers? They have IT cells to control misinformation or other anti-social activities. They must use that instead of restricting internet speed to 2G for all users,” he said.
The seven-month ban on the Internet has similarly frustrated the youth in Kashmir and severely affected their studies. They say they cannot compete with students outside the Valley, mainly because study materials, online courses and even registration requires 4G internet facility.
Threat of COVID-19 also restricts movement
After Srinagar recently reported its first positive case of the coronavirus, there has been panic all over Kashmir. Civil curfew has been imposed on the Valley and people are struggling to get information related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, using 2G internet speeds.
For students, however, this has resulted in a double whammy. Previously, at least they had the option of travelling to Jammu or outside the Valley to fill their forms or perform other necessary actions. With restrictions imposed on travel because of the pandemic, they are unable to do so. In fact, even those students currently enrolled in institutes outside the Valley are coming back.
Shahid Sulaiman, a student from Ganderbal district, says that he is trying to apply for a PhD programme, the last date for which is March 24. He has also recently qualified for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). “Every time I try to apply, the speed doesn’t allow me to,” he said.
He had recently visited Delhi to download stuff to read, but the coronavirus pandemic has ruled that option out. Even in the past, it was an expensive affair. “It cost me Rs 20,000 to travel there recently when I went to check if admissions are open,” he said.
To check the syllabus and download study material, he needs good internet speeds. “I haven’t even written my research proposal yet. Neither have I had the opportunity to review literature. How can I be expected to compete with students outside the Valley?” he asked.
Andleeb Zohra, a 26-year-old student from Srinagar recently shifted to a friend’s place in Delhi. She wanted to prepare for the National Eligibility Test (NET). The reason she decided to move was the slow internet speeds in the Valley. “I wouldn’t have preferred to come here, but I had no other option,” she said.
Zohra is now panicked about the coronavirus. “My parents want me to come back because they fear for my health. But the situation at airports is chaotic. I don’t know what to do now,” she said.
Quratulain Rehbar is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist.