Using 2G to fight a Pandemic in a digital world

April 24, 2020, 9:54 p.m.

It was on the evening of August 4, 2019 that the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir plunged into unprecedented communication darkness. Telephone and Internet connections were snapped in the valley and the next day Article 370, which gave Kashmir a special status, was abrogated. This started the longest communication blockade in the history of a democracy, cutting off Kashmir virtually from the rest of the world. It took exactly 213 days for the Centre to partially restore the internet in the valley, with obsolete 2G technology. This inadequate move was preceded by white listing certain websites raising concerns about net neutrality as well. Both the moves which tantamount to internet suspension were in consonance with the government order, dated March 4, 2020, issued by the Principal Secretary, Home Department, Shaleen Kabra [Government Order No.Home -21(TSTS) of 2020]. Although various civil society organizations and individuals had requested the government to restore 4G Connection, the Principal secretary passed another order extending the previous order till 27th April 2020.

The world right now is dealing with an unprecedented situation called COVID-19 which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The pandemic of extreme contagious nature, has forced almost all the countries in the world to go on a lockdown. Till date there are above 20,00,000 cases in the world out of which more than 12,000 are in India. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has recorded over 454 cases. COVID-19 which spreads exponentially through social contact, complete lockdown followed by self-isolation is said to be the only best measure against it. Most offices across the globe have shifted to remote work and meetings are being held virtually. Information to fight the pandemic is being circulated online, through Whatsapp bots, through video content, through advisories. It is 2020 and the world is digital, but Kashmir is still living at 250Kbps of speed. Information is a key tool to contain pandemic in view of no treatment or vaccine available. Crucial information if provided to doctors at the right time, can prevent them from making the same mistakes as has been made by the fraternity in other countries in containing the outbreak.

Generally, the internet speed required to perform day-to-day office work including video calls with screen sharing, sending emails with attachments, viewing videos; the internet speed on an average should be between 15-20Mpbs. The internet speed in Kashmir is currently 50 times less than the minimum desired speed.

SFLC.in has put together some voices from Kashmir reflecting on how a society all too accustomed with internet shutdowns used 2G technology to combat an unprecedented pandemic. Visit https://sflc.in/using-2g-fight-pandemic-digital-world