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[SRINAGAR] Scientists and researchers in Indian-administered Kashmir say that they have not been able to carry on research work since 5 August when a security and communication clampdown was imposed on the territory by the Indian government.

Fearing public protests over the withdrawal of 70-year-old constitutional provisions giving India’s only Muslim-majority state limited autonomy, the Indian government suspended mobile phone and Internet links with no word as to when they will be restored. 

However, a ban on travel to the alpine tourist destination, imposed three days ahead of the communications clampdown, has been lifted through an official order dated 9 October. “Tourists desirous of undertaking a visit to the state shall be provided all the necessary assistance and logistical support,” the government order said.

“It must be a nightmare to do research without Internet”

Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, University of Reading

Sajjad Ahmad, a doctoral candidate in the biotechnology department of Kashmir University, said that he was very close to submitting his thesis when the communications clampdown was imposed. “Uncertainty about restoring communications means that I may have to wait for months before I can submit my thesis,” Ahmad tells SciDev.Net
 
“When I came to know about the Internet situation in Kashmir, I really felt bad and sorry for these scientists,”  Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, associate professor at the University of Reading, tells SciDev.Net in response to an email. “It must be a nightmare to do research without Internet. In the western world, if there is no Internet access even for a few hours, institutions advise staff to go home,” Vaiyapuri says.

According to Vaiyapuri, most literature and databases are online. “Even large libraries lack all the information required for research — Internet is critical for scientific research.”
 
Laboratory work has come to standstill, too. At Kashmir University’s cancer cell culture laboratory, a screen at the top of incubator says, ‘replace hepa (filter).’ The person in charge at the lab, who requested anonymity, says that the notification was put up several days ago.

“The department has not been able to renew the supply of CO2 cylinders since the communication shutdown,” he tells SciDev.Net.  “CO2 is important for the growth of the cells. If the supply is stopped, the cells die and this is what has happened.” 

“We can’t replenish essential laboratory supplies as the vendors who provide lab chemicals and reagents are not able to communicate with the suppliers in Delhi and other cities in India; courier services are yet to be restored,” he adds.  

Another scientist, who also did not want to be named, said: “We have collaborations which we are not able to maintain. We can’t communicate with our funding agencies in India and abroad; for example, with the department of science and technology in Delhi and the Wellcome Trust in the UK.”

A scientist at the department of botanical sciences (Kashmir University) relates to SciDev.Net that he had to fly to Jammu, the winter capital of the state, three times to communicate with the editorial board after he submitted a paper. “This is so irritating, expensive and time-consuming. Researchers find it difficult to access the Internet for their work,” he says.

A professor in Srinagar’s medical college says that he was appointed as the editor of an international journal five months ago. “But I had to fly to Delhi and resign after the communications clampdown. The publication couldn’t wait,” he says.

India’s scientific establishments, when queried by SciDev.Net, offered no comment as to when Internet and mobile phone communications would be restored.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.