Non-local Indians students studying in Indian-administered Kashmir have started to leave due to the impact of the lockdown, which has continued for more than 100 days. A key reason is that government-maintained restrictions on communications and the internet are deeply affecting their education.
The restrictions affect two million prepaid mobile connections, the entire internet and SMS services.
The National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar, a major engineering college in the Kashmir capital with a substantial number of non-Kashmiri students, has received hundreds of applications from Indian students wishing to leave the college.
Most are in their final year of engineering degrees and the absence of internet and lack of access to research journals means they are unable to complete their projects and prepare for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) required for graduate studies in India and abroad respectively.
Final-year students are worst affected as they have pending projects, examinations and job applications for which online resources are vital. Even a supplementary internet connection available to NIT via a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) or two-way satellite has been blocked.
Other institutions, such as Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar and the Institute of Hotel Management, Srinagar, are facing a similar situation with non-local students preferring to leave Kashmir or transfer to institutions in other Indian states.
A precarious security situation in Kashmir, with multiple attacks on non-local labourers, truckers and fruit traders in Kashmir, has also caused concern among non-locals working and studying in Kashmir.
NIT has also enhanced security inside the campus with a close watch on non-local students, who are not allowed to leave the campus at times.
The institution has its own blue-uniformed private security guards, which college authorities say is a way to decrease the presence of police on campus. But police are on regular patrol outside the campus.
Education severely affected
On 4 August, hours before the central government in New Delhi removed Kashmir’s special autonomous status, and imposed a severe curfew and communication blockade on the state, it also issued orders for more than 1,500 non-local students to leave NIT and return to their home states.
Special passenger buses were arranged to ferry them out of Kashmir under tight security. The NIT buildings and hostels are located in a high-security complex surrounded by a high boundary wall. Police went in, gave non-local students orders to leave and physically removed students from their hostel, according to reports. The NIT hostel was then shut down.
NIT restarted classes on 15 October after more than two months of closure. However, education remains severely affected and many students have failed to report at the college.
NIT authorities are tight-lipped on how many students have applied to leave. NIT Srinagar Director Rakesh Sehgal confirmed to a national newspaper that almost half of the fourth-year undergraduate students sought permission to leave but declined to give details about other students.
According to media reports, of some 379 fourth-year undergraduate students, 200 engineering students have formally put in applications requesting college authorities to let them leave and return next year after appearing for GATE in February.
They also signed an undertaking that they are leaving of their own volition and would take full responsibility for completing the seventh semester syllabus on their own.
The college has 2,892 students, the majority of them non-locals, but only around 2,100 have reported for classes.
A large number of the institution’s 358 PhD students have not come back, unable to do much research without internet connectivity.
In addition, the internet blockade has meant that this year only 55 students found jobs through the annual campus recruitment drive, as hundreds of students could not reach the campus. The communication blockade also hampered dissemination of information about the event.
According to officials, who wish not to be named, new admissions are at an all-time low. Many students from outside the state have requested transfers to other colleges.
The institution’s management has repeatedly approached the Human Resource Development Ministry in New Delhi and the local administration for the restoration of internet services on campus.
Though there have been suggestions that limited internet connectivity will be allowed in Kashmir, the government has refrained from giving the exact date for resumption.