January 2020 News
We're In The Stone Age, Say Kashmir Students On Internet Shut Down25 January 2020
Srinagar: From ferrying data in hard drives by air from over 300 km away to to downloading syllabi of professional courses, students in the cut off Kashmir Valley are finding new ways to bypass the obstacles posed by the 147-day Internet shutdown. Though the government has restored 2G services in dribs and drabs, connectivity remains a major issue. Peerzada Fawaz Qureshi, 22, pursuing a B.Tech in Computer Science from S.S.M. Engineering College in Srinagar, is a fourth semester student and dreams to make it big as a security researcher. Mr. Qureshi has already earned a name as an ethical hacker after identifying bugs on known platforms including Facebook, Oath, Tesla, Uber, Mastercard and Adobein the past few years. His work which also help him earn money. 'It's a very, very tough competition online. I am out of the race since August 5 (when Internet services to the Valley were cut off). Internet to a security researcher is what water is to fish,' Mr. Qureshi says. The SSM college's closed assignment and reference sharing group on WhatsApp has also shut down. Once hooked to the Internet for eight to 10 hours a day, the shut down has left Mr. Qureshi restless and sleepless. 'It has already impacted my job prospects. I cannot compete with those breathing hi-speed Internet in rest of the country. It's like a student from the Stone Age competing with the Information Technology age. It will dent local engineers employability in the corporate sector,' he points out. For Khursheed Saiqa, a Class 11 student from Srinagar's Zaina Kadal area, it's literally back to the chalk-and-board era. 'I was used to reading on the Kindle for many years now. [But] no new books could be downloaded in the past five months. We paid a friend to ferry course material and references on a hard disk from Delhi and then distributed it here,' Mr. Saiqa says. Scores of students in the Valley have shipped their tablets, Kindles and iPads for necessary updates and downloading of popular YouTube lectures from online course and coaching platforms like Unacademy. Kashmir is home to 14 lakh students, a significant section of the total population of 70 lakh. The Internet blackout has impacted students pursuing national-level professional examinations the most. Naveed Azeem and his friends booked a cab to travel all the way from Srinagar to Jammu, a distance of 300 km, to access a fixed-line high speed connection. 'We downloaded the NEET syllabus for 2020, course material and online references. I am pretty sure that the results of the NEET later this year will reflect how students of Kashmir suffered due to lack of Internet. How many can afford to travel to Jammu in this weather when the Srinagar-Jammu highway gets closed for days together?' said Mr. Azeem. Top coaching centres in Srinagar, such as Aakash that train students for all-India competitive examinations, have seen a movement of students and parents opting for s centres outside J&K for year 2020; many fear a 'scaling up of tensions in the region' sources said. Rukhsana Qureshi, vice-principal of the S.S. Islamia High School, says, the lack of Internet has also erased a crucial interface between the school administration, teachers, parents and students. 'The modern means of education is not just class work but online search, study and experience. Kashmir was part of the flat world due to unhindered access to the Internet before August 5. A local Kashmiri student is as aspirational as someone in Delhi, Islamabad, Istanbul or London. This generation of students for sure will lag behind in absence of Internet. It's an assault on the education in the name of security,' Ms. Qureshi says. While authorities have restored 2G mobile Internet services, the speeds are insufficient for data-heavy sites. Further, access is limited to only 153 so-called 'whitelist' websites which excludes all social media platforms including YouTube and WhatsApp. Srinagar is yet to see any Internet restored. All fixed-line broadband services continue to be barred in Kashmir, with the shut down completing six months in February.