The communication clampdown over the past six months in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has crippled research activity in academic and scientific institutions .
The region has two central and nine state universities besides two premier engineering institutes and 93 degree colleges.
Even as the government has restored limited 2G internet access with many riders, research scholars pursuing doctorates told Anadolu Agency that they were unable to access research literature, download papers, or communicate with journals and researchers outside the region.
The communication blockade in the region began last year on Aug. 5 when India revoked autonomy and split Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
Many research scholars continue to travel outside, covering long distances, just to access their emails and send out papers to research journals, “said a scholar.
The Srinagar-based University of Kashmir alone has more than 200 research scholars enrolled in different science departments.
Irfan Hashim, a scholar in the media department arrives early to ensure that he gets proper access to the internet to download papers related to his research. The slow internet otherwise makes it impossible to access or download documents.
Last year in August, he was also all set to participate in a conference outside India but had to put off plans.
“I was invited to attend a conference in Turkey. I was unable to participate, just because I could not access my email to know about exact dates and my travel plan,” he said. He also lost the opportunity to publish his research article in an international journal.
“In today’s world, you cannot think of doing anything without the internet particularly, when you are pursuing research. For accessing online archives, various journals and even reviewing the literature, the internet is a must. For any kind of research, the internet is a lifeline,” said Hashim.
Racing against time
Rouf Ahmad Bhat, in the final year of his research is racing against time to complete his project after partial services were restored in the region. “Past six months, I was handicapped in the absence of internet services. There was no option, but to sit at home and occasionally look for possible help from friends living outside the region,” he said.
“Many times, I used to call my friends to download research material and then send by hand with someone to reach me. This period was highly depressing for me,” Bhat told Anadolu Agency.
Many others said that for want of proper internet facility, they are unable to complete their research.
“You have to polish your research at the end. You need to check many things. In the absence of the internet, it is impossible to pursue research,” Mubeena Masood, a research scholar at the University of Kashmir told Anadolu Agency.
They also complain that due to internet shutdown, they lost opportunities for getting fellowships.
“I was supposed to send my documents for a grant in a foreign university but with no internet access, my dream was shattered,” said Muzamil Shameem.
“When I checked mail in January, I saw the message from the university that they are not considering my application for want of documents. This is a tragedy with us, our future is bleak here, “he said.
John Babu Koye, a professor at the Central University of Kashmir said that many research scholars in the region lost precious time and opportunities over the past six months.
“I am heartbroken that many meritorious students lost many good opportunities to get fellowships or jobs elsewhere just because they had no access to the internet,” he told Anadolu Agency.
The Indian Supreme court earlier on Jan. 10 had directed the government to lift internet restrictions.
Following the order, the limited mobile internet connection was restored on Jan. 25, but came with the ban on using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access social media and list of websites opened for the access. The government has now blocked all the VPNs.
According to Internet Shutdown Tracker, a website that tracks incidents of communication blockade, the blanket bans on access to internet services, either mobile or fixed line, are increasing in India at a worrisome pace.
Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.