Anger in Kashmir after authorities extend curbs on 4G internet; online classes, work from home take biggest hit amid Covid-19 pandemic

Fifty-six-year-old Mohammad Yusuf Wani who runs a private school in Kashmir couldn’t roll out the online classes for the students after the shutdown of educational institutions in the region following the detection of coronavirus cases in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The low-speed 2G internet service has only made it difficult for his students to access the online lessons that are prepared at his Green Valley Education Institute in Buchpora neighbourhood of Srinagar. The curbs on the high-speed 4G internet services which have been extended by the authorities in the Union Territory on Tuesday has left Kashmiris infuriated as it has not only hit the education of students but has made it difficult for the residents to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic as access to online videos about the disease as well as initiatives like work from home have become practically impossible.

 Anger in Kashmir after authorities extend curbs on 4G internet; online classes, work from home take biggest hit amid Covid-19 pandemic

Representational image. Reuters

“We couldn’t begin the online academic sessions for the students after the schools were shut. We thought of imparting education through our software platforms but that is not possible. The lack of high-speed internet connectivity is making it difficult for our students to access the videos of the lessons that have been prepared by us,” said Wani.

The authorities have continued with the restrictions on the internet services in the Union Territory even when they have been stressing on social distancing asking people to stay indoors and avoid public gatherings. The gardens have been shut in Srinagar while as there is a ban on gathering at public places with the authorities threatening to detain a group of more than five people.

The cinemas have been closed in Jammu while there is a ban on big sports events as well. Nearly 1,900 people in Kashmir are under quarantine after they returned from their visits to Europe, Iran and Saudi Arabia while at least 11 cases have been found to be positive for the disease in Jammu and Ladakh.

The restrictions on high-speed internet services were extended by the home department here on Tuesday.

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An order issued by the principal secretary home department, Shaleen Kabra said that the suspension of the service was on account of the consideration of the “overall security scenario and the reports of the enforcement agencies inter-alia bringing out the necessity of speed-related restrictions on mobile data services to prevent misuse of social media applications as also taking note of recent terror activities, and upon assessment of the available alternatives.”

The fresh orders have left the people fuming and the political parties have urged the government to restore the 4G internet service to help people fight the spread of the disease.

Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party president, Altaf Bukhari, has urged the authorities to restore the 4G internet service stating that it was impacting the education of the students. State Congress vice-president, GN Monga, said that the “government should look into the issue and restore the high-speed internet services as this was affecting the efforts of the people to deal with the coronavirus. The access to the videos has been denied to people that only betrays the inefficiency of the government.”

The ban on 4G internet has made it difficult for people in the tourism and IT sectors to work from home.

Chief Executive Officer of IT company Myasa Network Solutions, Yaseer Kazmi, said that it was “difficult for us to ensure that the staff work from home due to the slow speed internet. We are unable to carry out video conferencing and are facing difficulties to attend our customers remotely.”  He also added that in “view of the curbs on internet, we can’t even access the videos which have been posted on social networking sites by the health authorities to impart awareness on coronavirus.”

A number of doctors also said that in view of the restrictions on the internet services “accessing or posting the videos about the disease was not possible".

“We don’t have access to the internet at the hospital due to which it was becoming difficult for us to post videos about the disease or to access even the developments related to the disease in other parts of the world,” said a doctor who works at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar.

Doctors have also said that the testing facilities need to be beefed up to fight the disease.

President of Doctors Association Kashmir, Nisar-ul-Hassan, said that the more tests need to be done to fight the epidemic.

“It has been seen that in countries like South Korea the disease couldn’t spread due to the higher number of tests which were carried out,” he said.

Farooq Kuthoo, who runs a travel agency in Srinagar, said that the restrictions on the internet services need to be lifted “to ensure that people can access the online content freely".

“We have already seen the bookings go down in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, but we have to visit the office to attend to the travel ticketing needs of the people. We can’t do it from home due to the curbs on the internet,” Kuthoo said.

Mission Director, National Health Mission, Bhupinder Kumar, the coordinating officer for coronavirus, however, said that the internet “is not the only medium through which people are having access to the information about the coronavirus. We have also fanned out our surveillance teams to different parts of Jammu and Kashmir and have also issued advisories in the local newspapers and on radio and television about the disease.”

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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2020 16:26:33 IST