“Ours is a different world and the government wants to remind us that we don’t belong to the time and space that exists outside our geographic frontiers,” Rameez Parray said, while showing us that his browser was not connecting to the internet. Rameez, the son of a farmer, hails from Kupwara district, in Kashmir, and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the University of Kashmir. “My father has invested a lot in me,” he told us. “He has given me deadline to finish my PhD and start working. I find it difficult to explain to him that I have lost half of my year because of no internet facility.”
We met Rameez at his rented accommodation in Srinagar’s Hazratbal locality, which he had left vacant for around four months during the Indian state’s clampdown on Kashmir since August last year. Rameez told us he feels overwhelmed by the stress of not meeting the deadlines for his research. He had just returned from his home to restart his research but did not know where to start without a proper internet connection.
In August 2019, the Indian government abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and enforced a communication blackout in the region. This included an internet shutdown, the longest such shutdown ever imposed in a democracy. Seven months later, on 4 March, the Jammu and Kashmir government issued an order directing the restoration of internet access, while restricting access to slower 2G networks. We spoke to 30 researchers from Kashmir in late February. They told us about their everyday struggles and how the internet blockade had economically, emotionally and academically devastated them.
On a frosty morning in the University of Kashmir, the valley’s oldest institution for higher education, we spoke to a professor of political science who did not want to be named. “The government has placed an ‘internet apartheid’ in the state of Jammu and Kashmir since August 5 of last year,” he said. The professor believed that this process had debilitated academic spaces in Kashmir because of the lack of any other sources for academic material, such as libraries. The Indian government—whose focus in Kashmir has largely been to contain secessionist activities in the past three decades—has failed to establish well-stocked libraries in Srinagar and other places.
The only libraries in Srinagar are the Shri Pratap Singh Library, and the City Central Library, both of which are government-owned and offer only a limited collection of books. Even those wishing to make use of these limited books find it difficult to do so because the libraries have become largely inaccessible due to the restrictions on traveling by road, following the August lockdown. The doctoral scholars we met said that they have been forced to completely stop their research due the absence of any access to scholarly databases available on the internet. This, several researchers told us, has caused them severe mental stress due to lost career opportunities, and put many in financial distress.