The recent months of lockdown scenario in India have eventually opened up the hollowness of socio-economic and political structures in benefiting the marginalized population of the country. Pensively, it has revealed the many facets of 'hidden Apartheid' and the outcasted lives from the heart of India's policies and social arena who were always kept outside the circle of Policymakers.
As the most gruesome conditions of the poorer sections and the 200 million of Dalits and Adivasis of the country have been unveiled in the migrant deaths and as results of paroxysm of poverty and joblessness, it is high time to rethink and recheck the structural provisions which keep the rest of the population unaddressed and outcasted from the mainstream.
Adding up to the exclusion of 600,000 villages in India in backing them up to handle with the daily needs, the impromptu beginning of digital education without proper intervention has infact made the digital divide more obvious than the 'digital India'.
Even though discrimination was outlawed by the Constitution in 1950, news reports on 'untouchability' and incidents on 'terrorising symbols', from in and around are now dealt unconcernedly with a usual air of a faulted legitimacy. It is as if more likely to accept an extremist section who prevail the social stigma than being with the victimized, addressing the issue of uniting against such incidents.
Children from Dalit families are segregated in classrooms and excluded from school ceremonies and not allowed to sing bhajans (prayer songs).
A survey done in the villages of Gujarat in 2008 shows that many Dalit students were forced to clean toilets and classrooms or ridiculed as 'bhangis' and given leftover food for dragging away a dead animal or a dog. The condition of these children and students in rest of the country is also not too different.
While the dropout rates of Indian youth in schools and colleges have diminished, the gap between the rates of Dalit and Non-Dalit students has widened.
Following the lockdown, when the regular education system came to a halt, what was then confronted in fact could have been given an optimistic turnover to rebuild the confidence and pave away for more inclusion of Dalit students towards the onset of an era of digital education in the country.
But unfortunately, neither the private nor the public structures had made any proper arrangements for them. The rest of the policymakers and the beneficiaries were busy scheduling the digital education system unconcerned and without waiting for proper implementation and ways to strike up an inclusive platform for every student, especially the ones from vulnerable sections of the society.
Sumeet Samos a rap singer, activist and a postgraduate in MA Spanish and Latin America Literature said that many of the young Dalit students from his hometown in Koraput, find it difficult to follow online education as they were unable to access the necessary requirements.
" They cannot access good quality network, digital devices and most parents are illiterate and due to that children do not know how to respond to online education." He said.
The recent suicide of Devika, a 10th std student from 'Irimbiliyam' village of Kannur in Kerala is one among the many who fell victimized to the digital divide.
In spite of the S.S.K survey report on May 15 which identified 2,61,784 students in short of online requirements for studies, no intervention in the political and administrative power structures was done to mitigate the barriers or to sort out the concerns of such students.
Keeping a blind eye to the shattered lives of Dalits and other poorer sections, giving room for more digital discrimination, the new order is being built on an already unfavourable structure, forcing them to fall vulnerable more likely.
There was no systematic interference to check the availability of electricity, network coverage, condition of one room rented houses in slum areas, and to tackle the obstacles for students living in different environments and family backgrounds, before the starting of online education.
After the case was reported in Kerala which led to an outcry for more effective interventions and resolutions, we saw a quick rehabilitation for digital education victims where hand in hand, the local governing systems,'kudambashrees' (A community Organization of Neighborhood for women), PTAs and other political, social power structures in Kerala collaborating together. All of which could have been done prior to children falling for depression and suicidal tendencies.
Political powers having to rush for a win win strategy for the new normal claiming to be the foremost and then responding to the failure of successful inclusion aftermath, by entitling it to be a 'trial' is unacceptable.
And even then, the concerns on always having to wait for second chances or being treated as optional and mere exclusions still exist.
The online provisions in Kashmir is even more pathetic as it suffers a deep helplessness for a year after the abrogation of Article 370, cutting off the 4g network in the valley along with other rights and their freedom. Officials said that in 2019, less than 100 academic days were only recorded while as per the New Education Policy ( NEP), educational institutions should have at least 180 working days in total.
In midst of a pandemic, when doctors revealed that they were not even able to download Covid protocol and guidelines, the Central Government has recently informed the Supreme court on considering the petition for restoration of 4g network in the valley that 'it is not necessary for a 4g restoration now'.
After the scrapping of Article 370 on August 5, less than 20 academic days in colleges and schools were reported last year. When the academic year was resumed in February 2020 after the winter vacations, Directorate of School Education kashmir (DSEK) has reported that 1.3 million students attended on February 25 after the seven months of curfew which still continues in Kashmir.
As the Kashmir News Observer (KNO) has reported, the Director of colleges, Yaseen Ahmad Shah said that there had been only three weeks of regular academic days in March 2020, and then the classes were again suspended due to Covid 19.
Students who are studying in different colleges of India under various streams from medical, engineering courses to various Bachelors and masters and research scholars, are unable to continue their studies online.
Many had already taken admissions for different courses but could not attend any of the classes.
"Sir, I had paid the fee for AutoCAD training but due to 2g network, I couldn't attend any classes. Please take this to the higher authorities, it is too much difficult to live here." says Hilal Ahmed Dar, a student from Sopore, studying in a University in Ludhiana.
Inspite of the ill-treatments and assaults they confront for their kashmiri identity, thousands of students are forced to take the risk to study in Indian colleges due to a perennial unrest in the valley. And now the 4g Internet ban has halted the education and future of millions of students and youths there.
From a study conducted to analyse the responses on the 4g ban and its bane in Kashmir, each one of the respondent expressed their anxieties and the baulk in their careers clearly.
Anayatullah from Baramullah town in Kashmir pursuing post-graduation in Engineering says that he is not even able to load the home page of any website. Saqib Khan from Ganderbal who has been preparing for Civil Services says, "After the abrogation of Article 370, there was no internet or phone connection for months. I was completely unaware of what was happening around the world and for exams like UPSC, one has to be updated'.
There are also responses on the network blockade like ' it is giving chemotherapy to cancer Patients', demotivating, 'hell' and frustrating. Students and Research scholars are not able to source material for research topics under limited internet speed of 40 kbps or to engage in online classes and many confess that they are now literally depressed.
"4g network is the need of the hour, but the current government doesn't care about the careers of the youth of Kashmir. It is highly unfortunate that the government is snatching our basic human rights leaving us alone in the abyss." Says Showkat a post graduate student in Mtech from Manasabal Ganderbal.
Even after a call for the restoration of network from International organizations and journalists, the 4g ban in Kashmir resumes, and not only becomes a catapult of human rights violations affecting the social life 11 million people but also the future of artists, students businessmen and other industries.
In the current era where everyone is assiduously trying to live in good standards and settle for a good future, the political and administrative power structures are unperturbed to the fate of the children and youth of certain sections of the society and are forced to remain as outcasted.
The digital education has to be dealt more sensitively and responsibly with proper interventions catering to the inclusion and resolution the concerns of students from backward communities, Dalit families and other poorer sections of the society. Whether it is made with the integration of power structures, or with a humane sensibility for the restoration of networks. A state cannot constitutionally or legitimately be such an unconcerned mute spectator towards the future and fate of millions of students and youth or use the digital divide as a stratagem under any regard.