The region is accustomed to lockdowns, but New Delhi’s ban on high-speed internet is undermining the medical community’s ability to fight the pandemic.
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir—When Indian-administered Kashmir confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 18, Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at Government Medical College in the capital, Srinagar, sensed the days ahead would be challenging. He sent a WhatsApp message to his friend, a surgeon in the United Kingdom, asking about the country’s response to the pandemic. His friend sent back a detailed protocol adopted by hospitals in Kent.
For Saleem, just downloading the document was a herculean task. Kashmiris have not had access to high-speed or 4G internet for more than eight months. Because of his erratic connection, he could not open the file. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the doctor vented his frustration on Twitter. “This is so frustrating..Trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by docs in England.. 24 Mbs and one hour..Still not able to do so,” Saleem wrote.
In August 2019, India’s government revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status and locked down the region, which has a population of around 8 million. The lockdown was followed by the democratic world’s longest internet shutdown, which was partially lifted on Jan. 25 when authorities restored access to 2G internet. But the denial of high-speed internet still prevents people from using banking apps, paying their bills, and accessing services—even forcing some out of their homes.