In Times of Covid-19 Security Takes Precedence Over Health In Kashmir

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Kashmiris are locked down in their homes with internet on 2g speed amid panic of coronavirus.

Riyaz Wani 

Srinagar: At a time, when governments are using all means of communication to ensure the people stay informed about the developments related to spread of coronavirus, Jammu and Kashmir is refusing to restore 4G internet even seven and a half months after the service was shutdown following the abrogation of Kashmir’s semi autonomus status.  

On March 17, when government had to review the ban on 4G, it extended it up to March 26.  In an order, Principal Secretary to the government Shaleen Kabra said that doing so was necessary “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and for maintaining public order”. 

However, the extension of the ban has made Kashmiris furious. With Coronavirus making its inroads into the Valley with the detection of one COVID-19 positive case in Srinagar, the people expected the government to restore 4G to enable people to read about the disease online and take preventive measures. 

“In quarantine or isolation, many of us are grateful for internet/social media, precisely what people in #Kashmir still don’t properly have. Not because 4G doesn’t exist but as it’s part of collective punishment of population, exacerbated since last Aug, no relenting for virus,” wrote London based Kashmiri writer Natasha Koul.

Another tweet by Shazia Bakshi goes: “Keeping in mind #CoronaVirus advisories of curtailing travel, shutting schools & colleges world wide; most resorting to Online classes. Isn’t it high time that 4G high speed internet is restored in #Kashmir? 7 academic months lost,this is beyond criminal now to make kids suffer”.

Recently released National Conference leader and the former J&K Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah has also written a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for restoration of 4G.

“As you are aware the first case of coronavirus has been detected in Kashmir yesterday, which has resulted in authorities locking down large parts of the valley. Businesses and students already hit hard by the shutdown after 5th of August, 2019 are again suffering because of these restrictions,” Abdullah wrote. “The people are being advised to work/study from home, but this is impossible with 2G Internet speed and limited fixed line Internet penetration”.

But, as is so far the case, the government has yet to make up its mind. Its rationale for continuing the ban the  4G  is its potential “misuse” by anti-national elements. And by “misuse” the government means the attempt to disrupt the peace in the Valley. 

Kashmir, however, has been peaceful for the last over one year now. No protest or a stone pelting incident has been reported from anywhere. In fact, this peaceful state of affairs was recently attested to by the union minister Dr Jitendra Singh. Speaking in Lok Sabha on Wednesday, Singh said there hasn’t been a calmer eight month period in J&K than the one since August last.

But the government has been reluctant to relax the curbs, almost enforcing these for their own sake. Government’s approach has thus come in for a lot of criticism.

“It is so frustrating. Trying to download guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by doctors in England. It is as many as 24 MBs. It has been one hour. Still not able to do so,” Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at Government Medical College tweeted on Thursday. The tweet was later retweeted a number of times to highlight the continuing curbs on communication in Kashmir. But government so far seems in little hurry to respond.

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