India’s internet curbs in Kashmir hamper coronavirus fight

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Srinagar, March 31 (KMS): The long-running curbs on the internet in Indian occupied Kashmir prevented a handful of doctors from the occupied territory to join an online training session on managing ventilators – critical equipment for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

These doctors were invited by India’s health ministry to join the training session, however, they were unable to attend because of long-running curbs on the internet that have prevented those living in Kashmir from accessing information about the coronavirus, which has infected more than a thousand people in India, killing 29.

The Muslim majority region, has been tense since New Delhi stripped it of autonomy and statehood in August 2019.

Authorities detained thousands and introduced one of the world’s longest-running internet shutdowns, only restoring limited 2G mobile internet in January.

Despite pleas from several rights groups to completely ease restrictions, the authorities have refused. Most people in the region lack broadband connections.

Dr Suhail Naik, president of the main doctors’ association in Kashmir, said education drives seen elsewhere in India about the symptoms of the virus are impossible to run in the region.

“We want to educate people through videos, which is not possible due to internet restrictions . We are handicapped in the absence of high speed internet,” he said.

In a letter to officials, human rights group the Internet Freedom Foundation said internet speeds in Kashmir were “woefully insufficient” to spread the message around combating the coronavirus threat.

Internet curbs have also hindered efforts to home-school children.

G.N. Var, president of the All Private Schools Association in Kashmir, said the organisation had prepared online classes for the 650,000 children studying in their schools but had been unable to introduce them.

“We are unable to connect with the students due to internet connectivity. It is 2G and they are unable to download study material,” he said. “I fail to understand why they aren’t restoring high speed internet.

 

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