Srinagar: 19-year-old Azhar Gani, a resident of North Kashmir’s Bandipora area, arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday to submit his application for National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET). After traveling 60 km and waiting in a queue, he could not submit his form at the end of the day.
Azhar could not go back home. He stayed overnight in the city and came back to the government provided internet kiosk at 4 in the morning the next day, more than 3 hours before the sun rises in Srinagar. “I did not sleep due to the stress. When I reached here, there were already more than thirty people registered,” Azhar says. He finally submitted his form at 11:05 am.
Students from even the remotest villages and towns of India can submit their forms from anywhere, except in Kashmir, where students are traveling to submit their NEET forms at designated locations. Government has set up a few computers with internet facility in these locations, as internet services have been blocked in the region since August 5, following the abrogation of Article 370.
For past three days, Owais, a resident of Srinagar’s city outskirts, has been trying to reach the kiosk as early as possible, but he is unable to reach ‘on time’, he said. “I am totally stressed, I didn’t sleep last night, didn’t have any food in the morning. I left home at 5 am but I still reached at 7am, that was late,” he added.
Owais had to walk about 6 km in freezing cold before he could find a transport. Nevertheless, he said, he is making progress in his studies. Owais and five others huddled around a small-fire outside the facility, warming up their hands. “There is no heating arrangement,” another aspirant said while all others burst in laughter, somehow understanding the tone of sarcasm.
Like Owais, Omar has also been coming for past three days. He suspects ‘favoritism’ by the government employees operating the facility. “I do not understand the mechanism here. They seem to be helping out influential people and ignoring others like me,” he alleged.
Omar belongs to central Kashmir’s distant Char village in District Budgam. Angered by the situation, he is quite determined to appear in the test.
Also Read: Online Start-ups in Kashmir Hit Hard by Internet Shutdown
Medical stream in Kashmir is considered the most prized and prestigious and is highly competitive. Tens of thousands appear in the exams every year from across the region. At the internet kiosk, aspirants, some of them accompanied by parents or relatives, struggle hard with cold, waiting for their turn, their gaze fixed on the huge, chiseled walnut door. The government employees helping with filing the forms come out after every 20-25 minutes to announce turn. They randomly scold a few random students to assert their power.
The government’s imposition of clampdown in the region has devastated people in the region since August. First, by restricting their movement, work and livelihood while stripping them off of a semi-political autonomy and then by blocking communications. With the end of academic year, the students are battling a manufactured crisis in Kashmir caused by civilian administration.
A resident of South Kashmir’s Anantnag, Tabish has just finished her grade 11 exams, but instead of being happy, she has become quite worried. After finishing her school, she had planned to pursue her graduation outside Kashmir but, in absence of the internet, she is clueless about any information on institutions or the admission process.
“I am deeply worried about my admission... I want to switch from science to Arts but I am not sure where to find information on courses and colleges,” Tabish says.
Not just students, businessmen, traders, activists, lawyers and employees are also facing the brunt of this continued clampdown.
Fahim Tariq, a postgraduate in computer applications planned a few years back to start his own venture against the wishes of his family who wanted him to settle outside Kashmir. “So far I have not regretted that decision but I am afraid I might,” he says. Since December, Fahim has traveled on a treacherous road for over 300 km twice to avail internet services in Jammu. “I have lost a lot of work and several projects because of the blockade,” he says.
The lack of internet facility has also created massive problems for traders and businessmen, who are not able to submit their monthly GST returns. In Jammu and Kashmir only around 40% GST returns were filed till November 18, the initial deadline for filing the return which has now been extended till December 20.
The business fraternity in the valley, however, decry it as a huge inconvenience marred by long queues, shortage of time and low internet speeds at the government designated centers. Many traders and businessmen even realised while filing GST returns their GSTINs have been blocked due to failure of filing the returns for last four months.
Many government employees also fear penalties as they were unable to file their Income Tax Returns (ITR) due to the internet shutdown. Among the 4.5 lakh government employees, about 50,000 with salaries of 6 lakhs per annum and above from the region are affected due to the failure of filing their ITRs.
Many in the valley are either traveling outside their regions to access internet, however, there is a significant population in duress – job aspirants, workers, teachers, students, employees, pilgrims, businessmen and so on.
Also Read: Article 370: Four Months of Shutdown, Violence, Intimidation and Misery