Article 370 Anniversary: Kashmiri Students Recall a Year in the Dark

A year ago, August 5, 2019, came as a dark new dawn for the now erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. With a severe lockdown coming into effect alongside the revocation of Article 370 and the state being broken into two union territories, many have faced countless struggles – especially with no access to the internet to begin with and eventually a still continuing clampdown on accessing high-speed internet services.

Among those affected have been students. Aaqib Fayaz, a student of journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia, encountered recurrent episodes of sudden feelings of anxiety post August 5 as the communication blackout came into effect. After being cut off from his family, Fayaz soon ran out of money and was unable to pay his rent in Delhi. When his mother finally called from a police station after a long month of waiting, he broke down.

“My mother had never even stepped inside a police station and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. That phone call was followed by long nights of restlessness,” he said. Fayaz had to borrow money to sustain himself in Delhi.

In the months that followed, many Kashmiri students were forced to leave for different cities just to get access to basic facilities in order to not lose a year. Mobile phone services in the Valley were only restored in January 2020 – five whole months after they had been snatched away. Two months later, 2G services were restored. There have been many pleas to have 4G services restored in the Valley.

Aisha (name changed), from Pampore, left Kashmir in mid-September, after living through official, unofficial and civil curfew for 45 days. Like eight million other Kashmiris, she had no access to the internet, phone services or newspapers, and had absolutely no clue about what was happening in other parts of Kashmir or the world.

Also read: Agony Inside: A Story From Kashmir

“I was preparing for a medical entrance test for postgraduation that was supposed to take place in January 2020. I had enrolled in some online courses and thought I would be able to cover the entire syllabus by watching the prescribed video tutorials. But I lost access to the internet after they forced us into a complete network blackout,” she said.

In the beginning, she thought they would restore communication in a few days, so she stayed at home. After going back and forth over her decision to leave Kashmir, she finally decided that she couldn’t wait any longer and left for Delhi after 45 days.

“I was confident about cracking the exam by watching these online tutorials, but then I was left with little time to complete the course. I lost six precious weeks,” she added.

Aiman (name changed) was over the moon when she was awarded the GREAT scholarship to study at a prestigious university in Europe. After undergoing a grilling application process, she was selected among thousands of applicants for the scholarship that paid her full tuition fees.

She was due to apply for her UK study visa in the second week of August, which was hindered by the post August 5 reality. In addition to the delay in the visa process, she faced a unique dilemma.

“I was very unsure about what to do next. At the time, we had no idea how long this situation would continue. Even if I would have been able to process my visa application on time, leaving at a time like this meant no contact with my family for months on end. So, I gave up the scholarship. This was by far the most difficult decision of my life,” Aiman said.

In a north Kashmir village earlier last month, Qurat-ul-Ain, a medical graduate from Jiamusi Medical University, China, was preparing for a medical screening test conducted by the Medical Council of India every year. Having collected all her study material online, she had decided to prepare for the exam on her own rather than joining any institution.

After Kashmir was put under the strict security lockdown and not wanting to take any chances when it came to her career, Qurat-ul-Ain decided to move out of Kashmir in order to access the internet.

“I could not practise in India unless I cracked this exam. So, this was one of the most important decisions of my life. Due to the communication blackout, I was unable to study for the exam. We did not know how long it would last so my family decided that it was better to move to Delhi and study there,” she said.

Madiha (name changed) was preparing for her medical entrance exam at the time. The 18-year-old used to attend classes at a well-known coaching centre in Srinagar. With only a few months left for the exam, she started panicking when the shutdown kicked off. Having been through the such curfews before, which would even stretch for six months at a time, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to crack the exam if she stayed in Kashmir.

Even though she had never lived outside Kashmir before, she was forced to make a decision to shift to to Delhi for coaching.

“I left home in the midst of a severe curfew. Once I reached Delhi, I wasn’t able to get in touch with my family back home. It was a period of hopelessness and extreme anxiety. I had to learn to live in a city which was completely new for me while being able to receive no news from home,” she said.

Ifreen Raveen and Asma Hafiz are students of MA Convergent Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

Featured image credit: Reuters