'A year of chaos': Cornered by communications blockade, J&K doctors and medical students look back on 2019 

  • Hundreds of doctors and students at Kashmir medical colleges have been hit hard due to the internet blockade, the longest in the history of the Valley.

  • Two weeks ago, the government restored internet at SKIMS, but doctors claimed this has been limited to the administrative block

  • Though the government has opened a few facilitation centers for students to apply for examinations, including NEET, students say this simply isn't enough

Hundreds of doctors and students at Kashmir medical colleges have been hit hard due to the internet blockade — 151 days and counting — the longest in the history of the Valley. Post abrogation of Article 370, which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir, doctors at medical colleges have been unable to carry out research. At Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar, the largest medical institute in Jammu and Kashmir, several research scholars who submitted their papers to national and international journals have not been able to check the status of their submissions.

 A year of chaos: Cornered by communications blockade, J&K doctors and medical students look back on 2019 

A view of Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) at Soura in Srinagar on Saturday. Excelsior/ Mohd Amin War. With Farhat Story

One of them, a professor in the department of cardiology who did not wish to be named, submitted a research paper prior to 5 August. He said he does not know the status of his paper and that he is unable to conduct research. “We are unable to access research literature. We are disconnected from the world of literature,” he said.

In 2018, SKIMS was listed among India's top 20 research institutes. “I don't think the amount of research papers we produce this year will reach the 2018 level,” he said. The professor added that medical science is ever-changing and that new treatment models that benefit patients emerge frequently. “But we can't access them. We aren’t aware of advanced treatment modalities across the globe. It is critical that we have access to the internet, especially for certain patients in critical condition or who have rare diseases,” he said.

Doctors and research scholars at Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar, one of the oldest medical colleges in North India, said they have been frustrated these past few months. For Dr Rabani Tariq, a registrar in the department of social and preventive medicine, research simply cannot be conducted without the internet.  “Research in Kashmir has entirely stalled. It'll take us at least six months to start it,” Tariq said. Doctors also can't attend web seminars, which are an important component of research and patient care.

Dozens of independent researchers at GMC Srinagar, including doctors, have been unable to work on their projects. Tariq's research paper, on the use of technology in healthcare, has been published in a reputed international journal. However, he cannot access it or share the link with his friends. Post 5 August, the Valley saw undergraduates and postgraduates travelling to New Delhi simply to access the internet in order to complete their thesis.

Last January, Auqfeen Nisar, who is pursuing a a degree in community medicine at GMC Srinagar, started a crowdfunding campaign to provide sanitary pads to impoverished girls. Nisar named it 'Panen Fiker' which translates to ‘let's take care of ourselves’. Her project also seeks to educate adolescents about the use of sanitary pads. Nisar said the communications blockade has made it impossible to raise funds. The 31-year-old said her plans to create self-help groups within communities have been stalled.

In September, a woman postgraduate student of SKIMS Srinagar was in distress. Unable to finish her thesis, she had no option but to temporarily move to Delhi. “Everything has come to a standstill,” she said. “You can't simply rely on textbooks. We also need access to information that's available online. The day I submitted my thesis was the worst day of my life.”

Home Minister Amit Shah has claimed that everything is normal in Kashmir. But according to doctors from the Valley, patient outcomes have been impacted negatively. “We'd order medicine online,” the postgraduate student told Firstpost. “Also, the internet would be of great help in cases where patients were in critical condition. Now, we have to rely on books, which is time-consuming. And for doctors and patients alike, time is of the essence.”

Two weeks ago, the government restored internet at SKIMS, but doctors claimed this has been limited to the administrative block. They also said heads of departments have been asked to sign bonds and take responsibility for how the internet is used, which many have refused to do. Students have been unable to view video lectures which were made mandatory for them by the Medical Council of India.  Researchers relying on libraries complain that the material is out of date.

On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir administration spokesman Rohit Kansal announced that broadband would be restored in government-run hospitals. However, repaid mobile services in Kashmir are yet to be restored. In August, Syed Tabasum, who is pursuing B.Ed at a private Srinagar college, was preparing to appear in her first semester examination. However, due to the communications blockade, the exam has been rescheduled for March. “Eight months of delay!” she said. “That too in our first semester exam. That's a huge loss.”

Tabasum told Firstpost she couldn’t apply for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET). “It (2019) was a bad year. It was a year of chaos not only for me but for hundreds of students in the Valley,” she said. Tabasum complains of being unable to apply for a job or to keep abreast of any vacancies.

Though the government has opened a few facilitation centers for students to apply for examinations, including NEET, students say this simply isn't enough. Zahid Rashid, a Class 12 student who lives in a remote village of Baramulla in northern Kashmir, is planning to submit his application to enroll in BSC nursing at SKIMS. He said SKIMS put up the notification in December, but he could not see it for a couple of weeks as he had no access to newspapers in his village. “One of my neighbours knocked on my door and told me about it,” Rashid said. He added that hundreds of students are in the same boat.

Mohammad Irfan, a parent in Srinagar's  Magarmal Bagh, said students were at home for most of the year, which has created an academic gap. “They were unable to study. Imagine being indoors for months without any activity. The loss suffered can't be measured,” Irfan said. Last month, Farooq Khan, advisor to Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu, said the internet would be restored soon. But only time will tell when the residents of the Valley will be back online.

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Updated Date: Jan 02, 2020 19:43:40 IST