Safina Nabi, Indian Administered Kashmir: In circumstances triggered by the coronavirus, the free flow of information is necessary. Whether it’s about the number of affected patients, precautions taken by the administration to tackle the virus, safety measures to be taken by the public, helpline numbers, or to access online classes.
Eight million people in the valley of Kashmir are under a severe health threat and are left on their own to experiment and pursue safety measures and hygiene that one needs to follow in a situation when the WHO (World Health Organisation) declares the novel coronavirus as a pandemic in nature.
Hospitals have an acute shortage of doctors and paramedics, while its healthcare facilities are insufficient to meet the crisis and the ban on high-speed internet has created a big trouble for the students.
The Indian government is not resuming the high-speed Internet services in the Himalayan region on the pretext to maintain the Law and Order situation.
Junaid Ahmad, a B.Tech student was excited to apply for a scholarship through the Ministry of Minority Affairs but the continuous communication clampdown in Kashmir since 5 August halted his way. After waiting outside for days outside an internet facilitation center one day he finally got a chance to fill the form.
Junaid thought, at last, he would fill the form but the happiness did not last long. When he started to process, the portal required a phone number to generate a code that will be directly delivered to the number provided.
“I had no number to provide as all the prepaid numbers were not working and the ban on SMS services was still in place. With no option left, I traveled to Delhi to complete the procedure”. Said Junaid
Kashmir was sent into a complete communication and media blackout on 5, August 2019 after India’s nationalist government revoked an article of the country’s constitution that guaranteed the region a degree of autonomy, and shut down all communication, including the internet and phone services.
Rahila Muzaffer had a dream to study in Delhi’s Jamia Milia University after completing her graduation but the communication clampdown ended the dream. She was not able to track the admission process online.
“I had thought to pursue my higher studies from Delhi but how was it possible? We were under continuous curfew. There was a ban on everything – Phone, radio, Television. The day will not be far when there will be a ban on living as well”. Said Rahila who now studies Science at Amar Singh College Srinagar.
Rahila, good at painting keeps herself busy by painting and reading but doing the same thing all the time makes her feel disinterested.
“I had thought to cover the topics that I missed during the clampdown but due to the ban on high-speed internet that seems impossible”. Said Rahila with a dim smile on her face.
The right to education has been recognized as a human right in a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In times of a pandemic when lockdowns were announced, tech companies are helping institutions to smoothen their transition to an online-only teaching format through video-conferencing apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts. Children in Kashmir do not have access to any platform to cope up with the situation.
Mental Health Crisis:
Children in Kashmir are directly transferred from a clampdown to a lockdown and both the situations are worse as they do not have access to online material or classes. Indian government still is not revoking the ban on high-speed internet in the pretext to prevent protests against the abrogation of the region’s autonomy.
In this difficult situation, the Internet and technology is the only way to keep the continuity in the studies.
There’s little recent research on mental health among Kashmir’s children. But a 2006 paper co-authored by Mushtaq Margoob studied 100 children between the ages of three and 16 who had symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
Their reported trauma reflected abuses in Kashmir’s turmoil: nearly half had seen a close relative killed; 15 percent said they witnessed torture; four percent said they were beaten or tortured themselves by security forces.
Dr. Syed Karrar Hussain, paediatric neuropsychiatrist, Shri Maharaja Hari Singh explains that the closure of education facilities is known to have “Implications on behaviors of children” and it gets worse if it prolongs amid uncertainties especially in the backdrop of conflict.
“In Kashmir many children report school refusal and other anxiety orders. In a worldwide lockdown situation we rely on virtual modes of connectivity be it for social or academic pursuits for school or college going children but the limited internet poses a greater challenge to parents to contain children with scheduled activities at home”. Dr. Karrar said
Amnesty International India in a press release demanded that the Government must restore full access to internet services in the region and ensure that people have full access to health and safety-related information.
Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation says “Information today is not merely a passive receipt of ideas but due to the nature of digitization acts as a vital link to basic sustenance and government services”.
He further mentions that any internet shutdown or even decreasing speeds of access constitute an unreasonable barrier for people especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where timely information is often made available first online. Hence, any disruption puts people to grave risk to their health and safety.
Safina Nabi, a full-time independent journalist based in Kashmir. She writes about gender, health, human rights, and development.