Frequent gun battles affect online education in COVID-affected Kashmir

The authorities snap the extremely slow 2G connections whenever an encounter takes place. The government has not allowed resumption of 4G services in Kashmir citing security reasons

Frequent gun battles affect online education in COVID-affected Kashmir

Gulzar Bhat

Holding a smartphone in his hands, Arshad Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar's uptown area, is lounging in a recliner waiting to appear in an online examination. The virtual examination is slated to begin half an hour later. Soon Ahmad's brother enters his uncluttered room and informs him about a gunfight breaking out in town. Ahmad frantically phones one of his teachers apprising him that he may not be able to take his test. Barely a few minutes later, the internet vanishes.

"It is for the second time I have failed to take my online exams. Earlier, the university postponed the examination due to a similar issue," says Ahmad, a post-graduate student.

The gun battles in Kashmir are always followed by cutting off of data services for days altogether. After the government announced a nationwide lockdown to stave off the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in the last week of March, the graph of gun battles between militants and security forces considerably shot up in the Valley, causing substantial damage to militant networks. At least 83 militants were shot since March in Jammu and Kashmir. Vijay Kumar, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, during a recent press briefing, said that 106 militants have been killed till now this year.

Over the past few weeks, gun battles are taking place on a daily basis across the Valley. The internet services that were restored in the last week of January after remaining off limits for nearly six months are frequently being blocked. The cutting off internet during the ongoing pandemic has caused more harm to academic activities than in normal times.

"Due to this baffling virus, we are not able to appear in exams physically. Everything, from routine class work to exams, takes place virtually. But the internet disruptions hamper our studies," says Sabeena, a post-graduate student at Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), Kashmir. Sabeena adds that she feels down in the dumps due to the frequent internet blackouts. A teacher at IUST, who declines to be named, says that some of the departments had to postpone online examinations several times due to internet shutdowns and many students missed their exams.

"The internet shutdown has become a routine affair in the Valley. Almost every other day, the data services, in one or the other district, remain blocked," he points out.

Apart from the gun battles, communication lines in the Valley are usually cut off on important occasions like Republic Day and Independence Day. Sometimes, a mere visit of a VVIP also warrants the shutting down of data service.

Low speed internet is also causing major trouble.Many departments at different universities have opted for open book examinations and assignments. However, due to the low speed internet, restricted to 2G only, the students are finding it rather difficult to send across files. Many students complain that it takes them more than an hour to upload a two-page university assignment. And sometimes the files are not sent.

Mohammad Amir, who pursues pursues a Business Administration course from a business school at a local university, says that he has not been able to give a 15 minutes online presentation for a good three weeks due to low speed internet.

Last week, the Jammu and Kashmir government extended the ban on full speed internet till July 8. The government, in its order, stated that the restrictions on high-speed internet were imposed to stop rumour mongering and spread of fake news.

On May 11, the Supreme Court, while hearing a petition seeking to lift the ban on 4G internet services, had ordered formation of a "Special Committee", headed by the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, to examine the issue.

Showkat Ahamd, Assistant Professor at Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, says that the university has adopted online internal assessment procedure in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. The procedure, Showkat said, includes writing assignments including mini research papers, etc.

He, however, confirms that many students, particularly from the southern parts of Kashmir, have not been able to submit their assignment due to non-avaliablity of high speed and seamless data services.

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Published: 23 Jun 2020, 9:18 PM