India’s health ministry on Monday invited doctors in Indian-administered Kashmir to an online training session on managing ventilators – critical equipment for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Most, however, were unable to attend because of long-running curbs on the internet that have prevented those living in Kashmir from accessing information about the coronavirus, which has infected more than a thousand people in India, killing 29.
The Muslim majority region, also claimed by India’s arch-rival Pakistan, has been tense since New Delhi stripped it of autonomy and statehood in August.
Authorities detained thousands and introduced one of the world’s longest-running internet shutdowns, only restoring limited 2G mobile internet in January.
Despite pleas from several rights groups to completely ease restrictions, the government has refused. Most people in the region lack broadband connections.
Dr Suhail Naik, president of the main doctors’ association in Kashmir, said education drives seen elsewhere in India about the symptoms of the virus are impossible to run in the region.
“We want to educate people through videos, which is not possible at 2G speed. We are handicapped in the absence of high speed internet,” he said.
In a letter to officials, human rights group the Internet Freedom Foundation said internet speeds in Kashmir were “woefully insufficient” to spread the message around combating the coronavirus threat.
Internet curbs have also hindered efforts to home-school children.