Students, Scholars Call to Lift Blackout in Kashmir's Academic Institutions

The signatories maintained that irrespective of the government's security concerns, universities and educational institutions should be allowed to keep their communication channels open.

New Delhi: Over 150 students and members of the academia have signed a statement expressing concern over the ongoing communication blackout in the Kashmir Valley and its subsequent impact on academic institutions in the state.

The statement, which was originally published in The Hindu, says that while all the residents of Kashmir deserved to be heard, the lack of communication from academic institutions in Kashmir is especially concerning. It added that the University of Kashmir is home to several scholars and scientists from reputable institutions abroad who had returned to train the next generation of scientists. These researchers and their students, the statement said, remain cut off from the rest of the world due to the government’s measures. 

Highlighting the crucial role that the internet plays in conducting and communicating research, the statement says that not only are the scientists in question unreachable but “even the University of Kashmir’s domain (uok.edu.in) has disappeared from Google’s search results for the university”. 

Also read: ‘Appalled by Restrictions’: Academics, Scientists Express Concern Over Kashmir

The authors point out that Kashmiri students, who were due to commence higher studies in other institutions, had been adversely affected by the clampdown and as a consequence had been unable to confirm their enrolment or communicate at all with the institutions.

They also maintained that irrespective of the government’s security concerns, universities and educational institutions should be allowed to keep their communication channels open. Instead, the statement held that academic institutions had “been dealt a devastating blow”.

Finally, the text stressed the “preservation of academic freedom” and held that while the freedom to work in an academic setting would appear to be “a relatively minor freedom in a larger context”, it remained “a vital one”. Students and faculty members stated that the government’s commitment and support towards science and technology in the country would remain “merely symbolic without academic freedom and open communication on campuses”.

Also read: Ground Report: Why Most Kashmiri Children Are Keeping Off School

The statement called upon the government to lift the blockade in academic institutions in Kashmir right away and asked that efforts should be made to “win hearts and minds” instead of “alienating the best minds of the state who have chosen to live and work in India”.

The full statement is published below. Apart from circulating it, the statement’s authors have also reached out to various governmental and scientific bodies, including the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the University Grants Commission, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.


On Jammu and Kashmir’s Academic Blackout

It has been six weeks and counting since the Indian government declared significant changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir, namely the abrogation of article 370, the removal of statehood, and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, with a legislative assembly; and Ladakh, without an assembly. Simultaneously the government created a communications blackout that included mobile phones, landlines and all forms of internet. While landlines have been restored in phases in many parts of the erstwhile state, mobile telephony and internet access remains blocked in most of the Kashmir valley. 

While all residents of Kashmir deserve to be heard, we wish to express our concern about the situation at academic institutions. The University of Kashmir is home to many fine scholars, including young scientists who have returned to India from reputable institutions abroad to set up their own laboratories in Kashmir and train the next generation of scientists, supported by funding from Indian government bodies like DST and DBT and prestigious fellowships like the Early Career Fellowships from India Alliance. Such researchers, and their students, remain cut off from the internet and the world. In today’s world, the internet is an absolutely vital tool for conducting and communicating research. Not only are the scientists unreachable, even the University of Kashmir’s domain (uok.edu.in) has disappeared from Google’s search results for the university. Some other institutions (Central University of Kashmir, National Institute of Technology Srinagar, and others) appear to have functioning websites, but these have not been updated since July. 

As reported in The Hindu (September 17), particularly badly affected are Kashmiri students who were due to join other institutions for higher studies, who have been unable to confirm their offers within the deadline or correspond at all with institutions elsewhere in this context. Individuals have been trying to fill the communication gap where they can and request extensions for the joining date where possible. 

Regardless of security concerns that the government may have, universities and educational institutions could have been seen as safe places via which researchers and students could remain connected to the world, but, also, the general public could perhaps have been permitted to use those facilities, subject to safeguards, to send messages to their relatives and friends outside the state. These institutions could have been symbols of the freedom offered by India. Instead, teaching and activities there have been dealt a devastating blow. 

In a recent discussion of academic freedom, Spannagel calls attention to a precondition of academic freedom called ‘campus integrity’. By this is meant the “absence of a climate of intimidation through securitisation, targeted physical threats or oppressive surveillance on campus’’. She points out that such practices are “widespread in many countries” and that they “can have stark effects on academic activities”. 

We stress that the preservation of academic freedom, or indeed of “campus integrity”, is just one of the freedoms that the more fortunate among us take for granted. The freedom to work in an academic setting would appear, to be sure, a relatively minor freedom in a larger context, but it is a vital one. The Government of India has, time and again, emphasised its support for science and technology in the country. This support is merely symbolic without academic freedom and open communication on campuses, which are fundamental for our development as a democratic society. To continue to maintain links with other institutions, to renew interactions with others outside the state who are concerned about the state of Kashmiri educational and research institutions and to provide a means of access to those Kashmiri students in other parts of India who have been cut off from family and friends is one way in which the present situation might move towards normalcy. 

We call upon the government to lift the blackout at these institutions right away, and take all steps possible to help members of the Kashmiri academic community to make up for these lost weeks. We should be making efforts to win hearts and minds — not alienating the best minds of the state who have chosen to live and work in India. 

Original authors 

  1. B. Ananthanarayan, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  2. Gautam Menon, Ashoka University, Sonepat (NCR)
  3. Jayant Murthy, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
  4. Rahul Siddharthan, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  5. Reeteka Sud, NIMHANS, Bangalore
  6. Mukund Thattai, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore 

Other signatories

  1. Chintan Sheth National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore 
  2. Amitabh Joshi Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru
  3. Tafheem Masudi Gothenburg University
  4. Rukmini Kumar Vantage Research
  5. Nirmala No affiliation given
  6. Sujit Narayanan Simon Fraser University (Graduate Student)
  7. Madhav University of technology, Sydney
  8. Aurnab Ghose IISER Pune
  9. Sagnik Ghosh BSMS student, IISER Pune
  10. Sandip George University of Groningen
  11. Aeem Kshirsagar PhD candidate, Grenoble-INP, France
  12. Abilash Kumar Muthuraman Student, no affiliation given
  13. Joseph Melville Pinto Visiting Faculty, Dept of Communication & Journalism, Savitribai Phule Pune University.
  14. Vineeta Bal Adjunct faculty, National Institute of Immunology
  15. Sharon S Philip University of Virginia, United States
  16. Sancharini Mitra No affiliation given
  17. dhriti nagar IISER Pune
  18. Sampada Mutalik No affiliation given
  19. Bharadwaj Mutalik No affiliation given
  20. T.A. Abinandanan Indian Institute of Science
  21. Devashish Kulkarni No affiliation given
  22. Mayurika Lahiri IISER, Pune
  23. Anwesh Bhattacharya IISER Pune
  24. Pragya Srivastava University of Pennsylvania
  25. Arghya Mukherjee Cisco Systems, Inc.
  26. Srikanth Sastry JNCASR, Bengaluru
  27. Satyajit Rath (retired) National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi
  28. Soumitro Banerjee IISER Kolkata
  29. LS Shashidhara Ashoka University and IISER PUNE
  30. Jaykumar Vaidya Graduate student at UVa
  31. Rahul Roy Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi
  32. Partho Sarothi Ray Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata
  33. Nagaraj Balasubramanian IISER, Pune
  34. Koel Das IISER Kolkata
  35. Aniket Sule Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai
  36. Mayank Vahia No affiliation given
  37. D. Mathur Formerly Tata Institute of Fundamental Research 
  38. Kavita No affiliation given
  39. K. Anandavardhanan IIT Bombay 
  40. Madan Rao National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore
  41. Shivprasad Patil Indian Institute of Science Education and Research
  42. Anupam A.H. IMSc,Chennai
  43. Abhigyan Ray Undergraduate Student, Department of Chemical Engineering, Institute of Chemical Technology
  44. Abhiram Kaushik The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  45. Ajit C. Balram IMSc
  46. R. Ramanujam The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  47. Thiagarajan Jayaraman TISS
  48. Tejal Kanitkar National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru
  49. Sibasish Ghosh The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  50. Sreelaja Nair TIFR
  51. Aniruddha Deshpande IISER Pune Master’s Student
  52. Manojendu Choudhury IUCAA
  53. Suhita Nadkarni No affiliation given
  54. Zakhiya P C Student, no affiliation given
  55. Jacob Ashrith IISER Pune
  56. Saanchi Thawani Student, no affiliation given
  57. Gayathri Kondakath Undergraduate student from IISER Pune
  58. Chaman Lal, Retd. JNU, New Delhi
  59. Thejas Krishnan No affiliation given
  60. Himanshu Badhani IMSc Chennai
  61. Satyaki Mazumder No affiliation given
  62. Rahul Nigam BITS Hyderabad
  63. Yeshi Khampa No affiliation given
  64. Dinesh PR BS-MS student, IISER Pune, no affiliation given
  65. Safvana Yasmine, Indian Institute of Mass Communication New Delhi
  66. Manav, Institute of Mathematical Sciences
  67. Anjali Sharma, University of Luxembourg
  68. Anmol Sahu, IISER Pune
  69. Umesh Student, IISER Pune.
  70. Shilpi Singh, Lady Shri Ram College for Women
  71. Ziyad Thekkayil, Student, no affiliation given
  72. Suman Dutta, Independent Researcher
  73. Pavan Dharanipragada, PhD student
  74. Parvaiz Sheikh, IIT Kanpur
  75. Vidur Niranjan, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru
  76. Sorab, No affiliation given
  77. Favaz Kozhikkoden IISER Pune
  78. Lakshmi Sriram, BS-MS student, IISER Pune
  79. Pavitra, Research student, no affiliation given
  80. Adish Assain, No affiliation given
  81. Medha S. Rajadhyaksha, No affiliation given
  82. Savita Ladage, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education
  83. Nazia,  IISER Pune
  84. Chaitra, UIC
  85. Ashaq Hussain Najar, National Centre for Biological Sciences
  86. Anil, No affiliation given
  87. Omkar Manjarekar, MS, no affiliation given
  88. Shankar, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai 
  89. Farha Yasmin, Student, no affiliation given
  90. Bhaktee Dongaonkar, National Centre for Biological Sciences
  91. Preeti Kute, InStem
  92. Rajani Pillai, Research scholar, no affiliation given
  93. Prasad S., No affiliation given
  94. Nida Farheen, IISER Alumni, Brandeis University
  95. Shreeya Pal, School teacher, no affiliation given
  96. Margarita Safonova, Indian Institute of Astrophysics
  97. Dimple Adiwal, No affiliation given
  98. Parameswaran Sankaran, Chennai Mathematical Institute, Kelambakkam
  99. Ronit Debnath, No affiliation given
  100. Milind Watve, Freelance researcher
  101. Ulfat Iqbal Baig, IISER Pune
  102. Shilpi Bhunia, final year MS student, no affiliation given
  103. Bharath Kumar S, no affiliation given
  104. Satish KG, No affiliation given
  105. Dipti, No affiliation given
  106. Mukul, No affiliation given
  107. Amruta Nayak, The University of Chicago
  108. Swagata Sarkar, CEBS, Mumbai
  109. Anand Nimhans
  110. Nandini Rajamani, IISER Tirupati
  111. Aritra, The Institute of Mathematical Sciences,Chennai
  112. Jyothish S, BS-MS student, no affiliation given
  113. Rajdip Sarkar, IISER Pune
  114. TNC Vidya, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research
  115. Debarun Ghosh, Maths PhD central European university
  116. Shiva Chidambaram, No affiliation given
  117. Nandkishore Prakash, University of California, San Diego
  118. Swetha Godavarthi, UCSD
  119. Amol Patwardhan, UC Berkeley
  120. Vignesh Srinivasan, UCSD
  121. Pooja Sancheti, IISER Pune
  122. Sarfaraz Nawaz, Post Doctoral Fellow, Instem, NCBS
  123. Prabahan Chakraborty, No affiliation given
  124. Shreya Das Sharma, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Bangalore
  125. Vidya Ramesh, NCBS/InStem
  126. Dr Utsa Ray Jadavpur University
  127. Deepika Choubey Regional Centre for biotechnology
  128. Mariya Rashid, No affiliation given
  129. Nishikant Subhedar, Retired from RTM Nagpur University
  130. V.Subashri, IMSc
  131. Nivetha Murugesan, PhD student, IISER Tirupati
  132. Mukilan J M, Student, no affiliation given
  133. Shabnum, No affiliation given
  134. Banhi Chakraborty, Ex-faculty, IIT Kharagpur
  135. Batul Pipewala, No affiliation given
  136. Adarsh Vasista, Postdoctoral research fellow, no affiliation given
  137. Soumyajit Pramanick, Calcutta University
  138. Saurav Holme Choudhury, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
  139. Rachel Topno, IGNOU
  140. Sagar Khare, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA
  141. Vidita Vaidya, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
  142. Prasanna Rajashekarappa, Advocate
  143. Dr Ashutosh Kumar AIIMS, Patna
  144. Pranav Minasandra, Indian Institute of Science
  145. Manoj Kumar, Amity University
  146. Nikhil Gupta, IISER Pune
  147. Sharbatanu Chatterjee, University College London
  148. Vrushal, No affiliation given
  149. Meghana, Sjc
  150. Kamal Lodaya, (Retired) The Institute of Math. Sciences
  151. Dr Kajal Kanchan, AIMMSCR, Amity University, Noida
  152. Anweshi Dewan, IISER Pune
  153. Sibaram Sadangi, Prospective student for ‘Medical Immunosciences and Infection’ at University of Bonn, starting October 2019
  154. Avinash Thirumalai, Unaffiliated
  155. Pradyumna Singh, Intel Labs
  156. Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan, Indian Institute of Science
  157. Samriddhi Sankar Ra,y icts-tifr
  158. Anwesha Maharana, Student, no affiliation given