Struggles With Internet: The Torment of Young Kashmiris

Students queue outside a Govt internet kiosk in Banihal. Photo Athar Parvez

Shahid Mohammad Khan

Hello, world! first and foremost, I hope that all of you are healthy and safe. During this global pandemic, everyone out there is working from home, shouldn’t we be thankful for the technology that allows us to work, study, and live right from our homes? Can you even imagine this long lockdown without access to high-speed internet? Can you imagine your life without internet? Well, here in my homeland, laws are arbitrarily enforced (or not enforced) according to the whims of the authorities. Access to internet is granted to public when and if authorities, who rule over us, decide it should be. I wonder if any law sanctifies internet ban during a pandemic, especially in a country like India, the world’s largest democracy. During this hard time, it’s well known what easy internet access to people means. Right now every sector of our society has been hit hard by this pandemic- whether it be business, education or medical care. For the people out there working and studying from their homes, think about lesser mortals like us. How will we survive this pandemic?

On 5th August 2019, as I woke up, and, as usual, checked my phone I was shocked to see that all communication including internet access, had been withdrawn. This was because authorities decided to revoke whatever little autonomy we had under the Indian constitution. I was crestfallen as I had not registered for the SAT and TOEFL exams. I was preparing for these exams for a long time and I found myself unsure as to whether I’ll be able to take my exams. Luckily during that long lockdown, I somehow managed to travel around 800 kilometres to get internet access. It cost me a lot. I had to live there for around four months and spend large amounts of money. I went to Delhi and registered myself for those exams. I’m the kind of person who never gives up on anything. But at the same time, I was worried about my family because there was a complete ban on communications as well and I was unable to even make a phone call to my parents.

I took both exams and all thankfully I got a good score. I had worked hard for my applications and I’m indebted to my father who had to travel to my high school during the lockdown to secure my documents from there. Perhaps my bad luck, communal riots broke out in Delhi and I was left with no option but to escape to safety of Kashmir. Back home I was again pushed into whats now universally called “Information Blackhole”. I was not sure whether my application had been accepted or not. So after a few days, I went to a government office, the only place with internet in the entire district. I waited for hours because of the huge rush of desperate people, nearly 300. Finally I managed to access my mailbox and I found out that I have been accepted by not one but by four universities i.e University of Kansas, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Case Western Reserve University, and UIC. Tears of happiness rolled down from my eyes because I had worked very hard for this moment.

But now there was another challenge: university interviews. For that, I needed a healthy internet connection. You can’t work on an internet connection with a speed of around 15 kbps. As I said, life was not that easy for me. And right now, I’m not able to participate in my university webinars, or even in my interviews. We are told this is a matter of “national security” and authorities here provide outrageous excuses. Luckily, real people out there are understanding and they helped me get things sorted out.

Countless other students, like me also suffered due to this long lockdown and internet ban. And right now when one can’t go outside of their home, all you need is a good internet connection. But we have been denied this basic human right over and over again. Students out there can’t take their online classes, so we are hit hard by this global pandemic as well as by the long political lockdown on our freedoms. As Jack Welch said, “Internet is a Viagra of big business.” We are all connected by the internet, like neurones in a giant brain. So don’t try to rationalise decisions that only ruin our future. Provide us our basic rights. Having internet access is one of them.

Author can be reached at: [email protected]

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