Coronavirus: Amidst Pandemic, 4G Ban Irks Virtual Kashmir

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: Whenever the review date comes nearer, Kashmir has a hope to see the restoration of 4G internet services. To set the ball rolling, at times the social media is flooded with the orders posted by different users saying “the services have been restored.” So much so that authorities had to intervene and issue warnings.

Off late when fake twitter handle of government spokesman Rohit Kansal was created to issue the directions, he had to come clear by tweeting, “I am told that some Twitter handles impersonating my account are carrying some FAKE news regarding internet. PLEASE NOTE: 1) I have NOT made any statement 2) Fake handles have been reported for action 3) We will also be taking action under cyber laws.”

Jammu & Kashmir has last used the high-speed mobile internet before August 5, the day it was downgraded into two Union Territories. With more than 250 days after, when on Wednesday government had to review the decision, the ban continued. April 27 is the new date of the review.

Post pandemic, the locals led by unionist politicians had hoped to see its restoration. From recently launched Apni Party to BJP’s unit in the UT urged to have the high-speed internet restored, but no word has found an ear. The demands met dead fate.

The pandemic raised hopes as the lockdown currently in vogue insists the population to remain inside. A high-speed could have been a motivation, but Kashmir case is different. The government in its extension order maintained that the restrictions did not pose any hindrance to COVID-19 control measures.

Besides citing LoC encounter, militant’s funeral as a reason to continue with ban it also said the ban needs to continue given “misusing” of social media applications for “circulation of photographs” of militants and “for mobilizing crowds.” The order further added that its restrictions have reduced incidence of misuse of fake news, uploading of provocative audio, video content, rumour mongering, coordination of terror activities.

However, people associated with different sectors of life in Kashmir urge to have restoration of the high-speed mobile internet. Be it doctors, health care workers, students, researchers, media professionals, 4G is the common need expressed by all to stay connected and informed about the developments.

Terming it as a denial of freedom journalist Gowhar Geelani said “this continuous ban on internet ban is shameful. The rationale behind this continuous ban is irrational. There is no rationality behind snapping internet for eight million inhabitants just because there is one incident which authorities describe as unwanted.”

“This is so frustrating,”  Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at the Government Medical College Srinagar wrote on Twitter last month after trying to download guidelines for intensive care management. It, he claimed had taken him an hour to partially download the document of 24 MBs.

“It hampers productivity and the work in unimaginable ways. One has to waste a lot of time in uploading and downloading. Unfortunately, the state hasn’t restored it,”  said Fayaz Ahmed Sheikh, a faculty member of Centre for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, School of Management, Zhejiang University, China.

One of the government teachers wishing anonymity said, “It is difficult for him to conduct classes online as the speed is slow as he has to upload material. The students also face difficulties with downloading of material. Teaching is about communication and when one can’t communicate effectively in the absence of high speed what is the point?”

Disturbed over the speed, many students opt out of online learning classes. Tahseen Qazi, a higher secondary student says “I could not download the zoom for hours and when I did there is a problem with audio and video lessons. Out of hundreds of students, couple of students attend online lectures. I could not understand the procedures so in protest I uninstalled the application,” he said.

Not only teachers and students, researchers too find it difficult to manage. “All the relevant work including browsing for data, downloading research papers, communicating work and correspondence with our collaborators is affected by slow internet connection,” says Musa Mubark, research Scholar, Kashmir University.

Students who have been studying in foreign universities and had to return because of pandemic are frustrated because of the absence of high-speed internet.

“Our universities are conducting online lectures. We are lagging behind. It is a terrible struggle amidst the pandemic,” says one of the medical students who came back home after completing quarantine.

The lack of high-speed internet has impacted the healthcare as well. Dr Suhail Naik President Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) says even though the high-speed internet doesn’t have any direct role in managing and controlling pandemic but it has an important indirect role.

“Doctors need to attend webinars conducted by medical scientists throughout the globe to update knowledge and skills especially in times of coronavirus. And the access has been kept free these days. But unfortunately high speed is hampering participation,” he said and added “it becomes difficult to read, watch and download literature especially videos from World Health Organization (WHO) with limited time and slow speed.

He said even the Prime Minister reiterated for online consultations with doctors to practice social distancing and allay the burden of health care sector.

The medicos believe an online consultation will be done effectively if 4G internet services are in place.

4G for Knowledge

In a recent open letter written by health care providers and legal experts in the region requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restore internet service that could potentially help them treat Covid-19 patients better.

Mocking the continuous restrictions, many social media users wrote on social media while expressing anguish, “ 4G has been restored in Kashmir with equal distribution of 2G for Jammu and 2G for Kashmir.”

Saifullah Bashir who is a media student and an avid social media user wrote on Twitter: “I have decided to dinner along with 4G, but it is too late and he is nowhere! I fear that he will again cheat me.”

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