Hundreds of research scholars pursuing PhDs in universities of Kashmir are unable to access research literature, download papers, and communicate with journals and researchers outside the state due to the unprecedented internet shutdown, which completes five months on 5 January next year. The internet services were suspended on 5 August this year across the Valley following the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories.

A PhD scholar at the sciences department in University of Kashmir said students were even unable to access their emails for months, and couldn’t download research-related papers and review literature online due to continued internet shutdown in the Valley.

The researcher said that some research scholars would travel to outside states to get some internet access for their research work in the past months but not all scholars could afford the additional travel and lodging expenses.”Many research scholars were forced to travel to outside the Valley and even to places like Drass and Ladakh, covering long distances on road, just to access their emails and send out some important emails, apply for conferences online and email papers to research journals in India and other countries,” the researcher said, wishing not to be identified by name.

“Sometimes many research scholars were forced to share their email passwords with friends or acquaintances based outside the state so that they could access and inform them about some urgent emails they couldn’t access on time here,” he said.

Last month, the research scholar was unable to attend a national conference related to his field which was scheduled to be held outside the state. Since there was no internet, he failed to email the required paper abstract to the conference organizers in time.

The researcher said the university did not provide any internet facility to the research scholars in the months after 5 August. Only in the past few weeks, he said, some two to three computer terminals with limited internet connection has been provided at the IT section of the campus which is closely monitored by the administration.

“The limited internet facility is mostly used by the university administration. It is inadequate to fulfill the needs of hundreds of research scholars of the university who require more internet access for their research work which remains badly affected due to the ongoing internet shutdown,” he said.

Another senior research scholar from one of the biosciences department at the University of Kashmir said that they’re struggling to regularly access their emails and unable to download research papers due to continued internet blockade. He said they are also not able to apply in time for several research grants, fellowships and conferences related to their research.

“We can’t apply in time for different fellowships and grants due to continued internet shutdown. We can’t review research related literature online which is delaying our work,” he said. “Hundreds of research scholars in different fields have lost many opportunities and their fellowships have been delayed as they couldn’t submit all the documents online due to the internet ban since August.”

In April this year, the research scholar had qualified for a Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) grant but he couldn’t upload all the documents and complete other formalities online after the mobile and broadband internet was shut down. His fellowship was delayed by four months due to continued internet shutdown.

“I’d to later contact the funding agency ICMR on phone after waiting for hours outside a police station in August as even phones were not working. I told them about our problems and requested them to email me the grant letter which was then accessed by my friend outside the state who later couriered the letter to me which reached me after months of delay,” he said.

The research scholar said many of his colleagues and other researchers from the Valley lost a lot of opportunities, fellowships and grants due to continued internet blockade since August.

“They are all dejected as they couldn’t apply in time for any fellowship or research-related grants this year,” he said. “The ongoing internet shutdown will have long term consequences for researchers in the Valley.”

According to the research scholar, the University of Kashmir has more than 200 research scholars enrolled in different science departments whose research and PhD studies were badly affected during the past five months of internet shutdown.

“Every department has about 30 to 35 research scholars at different stages and years of their PhD studies. All of them suffered equally due to the internet shutdown,” he said, adding that a few computers with limited internet connection established at the IT department of the university about two weeks ago is not enough to cater to the needs of hundreds of research scholars enrolled in different departments of the varsity.

Samiullah Naik, a PhD scholar at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST) said hundreds of students and researchers could not fill forms for PhDs in different universities and research centers in India and outside the country in time as the internet was not available. Naik could access his own email only two weeks ago at his university after the administration set up a few computer terminals with internet connection where they could access their emails and browse online for only 10 to 15 minutes.

We lost many scholarships and grants in the past few months as we couldn’t apply online in time and fill the required forms online. We couldn’t keep track of several other grants and conferences related to our field of study due to months of internet shutdown,” said Naik, adding that he also couldn’t attend a research conference in Raipur, Chhattisgarh as he’d to apply for the conference online and send his research paper abstract to the conference organizers which he was unable to send due to the ongoing internet blockade in the valley.

According to Naik, due to continued internet shutdown, only ten percent of PG students and other researchers from Kashmir have been able to apply for the UGC NET qualifying exam which is held after every six months.

“Also hundreds of students couldn’t keep track of different scholarships available on National Scholarship Portal (NSP) where scholarships on need basis are availed by students from low-income families,” he said. “All the forms required for these scholarships are to be submitted online but the students didn’t get internet access in time to apply for these scholarships.”

Naik said many of his colleagues, other researchers and Ph.D. candidates in different universities of Kashmir were forced to travel to the nearest states like Punjab and other states where they could freely access internet, download research related literature and papers for review, and apply for conferences and grants related to their field.

A first-year Ph.D. student at a bio-sciences department in University of Kashmir said the continued internet ban has badly affected their research work and delayed their course work.

“Today everything is online and our research is incomplete without access to the internet. The ongoing internet ban has proved that the government here does not care about our career or studies,” he said. “Otherwise they would have kept some internet access for students and researchers like us in the university in the past few months.” (FirstPost)