What better time to be in Kashmir than summers? If only I was on a holiday though! It’s a work-from-home arrangement for me that I am adhering to in the literal sense.
What a respite for people like me who have their roots in Kashmir but are compelled to take up jobs outside the State – correction, Union Territory! –due to the diminishing employment opportunities here. But isn’t unemployment also the buzzword across the world right now? Let me come back to it later.
Meanwhile, sitting beside my family, I enjoy the cool breeze, the greenery and the sweet sound of birds chirping – a description that I only read about in novels, while in Delhi. I thank God that at least something positive emerged out of this dreaded coronavirus.
The next morning I prepare to enter an online meeting. The meeting is hosted on Google Meet – a commonly used video communication service from Google. In Delhi, I would seamlessly use this facility on my phone, sitting even in the remote outskirts of the city. But here, to start with, I find it impossible to get connected using a phone, I turn to the broadband connection with great expectations. What happens next is even more unexpected. I lose count of times that I enter the meeting and drop out in the next 30 infuriating minutes. When finally it’s my turn to share updates, I get the impression that none of the participants are able to hear me. Frustrated, I drop a message in the chat box: ‘My internet is really bad, will catch up on the discussion later’. That’s the only communication that happens for me in that meeting.
The grim scenario reminds me of a famous quote by George Bernard Shaw where he says, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I live this problem as I attend the meeting and yet I don’t attend it.
Accustomed to using 100mbps speed internet in Delhi, when my cousin informs me that the broadband connection here offers a decent speed (3mbps), I’m lost for words at this stark disparity, although I laugh out at the use of the term ‘decent speed’.
I realise, I am just one of the privileged victims of the digital (internet connectivity) harassment. I wonder what happens to scores of people who rely solely on mobile internet connectivity for a variety of issues, ranging from healthcare and education to banking, livelihood, so on and so forth. The 2G connectivity presently being offered here reflects the true condition of the newly declared union territory. The sorry state of affairs is definitely not alien to any of us but what intrigues me is that on one hand while the rest of India is undergoing digital transformation so much so that a vegetable vendor now carries out e-transactions in a jiffy, on the other hand in Kashmir, in stark contrast, a broadband user has to struggle for something as simple as attending an online meeting.
Coming back to the unemployment part, well we all know how the private sector is shrinking worldwide in terms of retaining employees. There are many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) I personally know of that are on the verge of closing down. Such is the depressing financial outcome of this pandemic. In these trying circumstances, while some organisations are being considerate and offering employees like me the option of working from home, how are we expected to function with lousy internet connectivity? Will this not make one insecure about losing one’s job? Worse still, would it not compel people to return to cities, leaving behind their families all alone in these testing times?
A week back, one of my friends working in the IT sector, who had also returned from Delhi, called. In a very dejected tone he informed that he would be flying back in two days’ time. It was not even a week since he had come home. His reason for leaving was inevitable – miserable internet connectivity. While I write this, I am myself unsure about how long I would be able to stay here. As it is, we can only ‘hope’ that internet services improve here, a hope that we’ve been pinning on every other positive development here for years.
These are the times when the budding and young entrepreneurs and innovators need communication/ connectivity support more than ever. It could do wonders by connecting them to potential investors or by enabling them to identify avenues for accessing finance, or just to seek and share knowledge.
In our part of the world, people in authority are often caught in a self-contradictory mode. We want people, especially the youth, to stay home and comply with the lockdown measures, channelise their energies in worthwhile activities, and generate employment instead of seeking it, yet we are neither ready to offer them technological assistance nor opportunities for personal development or exposure. And yet we harbour the aspiration to become a self-reliant nation.
In Kashmir, what started with the censorship on internet has dragged on to culminate into a never-ending ban on 4G mobile internet. At a time when slow, or in most cases no internet connectivity, is exposing people to insecurity of health, education and livelihood, it is hard to comprehend how the ‘overall security scenario’ has been given precedence. But that’s a topic for another day. For now, let us continue to live in the illusion that communication is taking place.
The writer is a development communications professional with 10 years of work experience. firstname.lastname@example.org