Be it the Iran Students Protest of 1999, where the students protested against the closure of a reformist newspaper ‘Salam’ or the Chilean Student Protests of 2011, where the main aim was to convince the government to increase funding for public education, the student’s body flexed its muscle to influence a change.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” As I write this adage, I realize that this can be very subjective, contextual, and yet quite significant under different circumstances. At some point in life, everyone has to experience this. However, when desperation is attached to something as important as education, then either education is undergoing a reformative revamping or it is degenerating beyond the belief.
Let us look at the issue in Kashmir’s situation in the bygone eighteen months. There have been incidents that probably were never heard of in the history of education in the valley. Two core concerns that come to the mind right away are ‘Burning of Schools’ and ‘Student Uprising’.The former became one of the focal points in last year’s unrest. Around 36 schoolswere either partly or totally damaged, more than 5,000 students were left without classrooms and infrastructural damages costing crores of rupees were inflicted upon the education sector. One can only imagine the time all this will need in order to be rebuilt. Considering the efficacy of the state’s education department and the pace with which the government machinery functions, I would feel proud if the renovation process is complete in my lifetime, and I say this with no exaggeration! On the other hand, as a state subject, somewhere I also feel that I have no genuine reasons to blame the government on this as it has somewhere been an outcome of our own doing. Destruction of public property is certainly not something that is alien to us. Over the years, our idea of venting out anger has unfortunately been to damage the public property. Be it the local trains, commercial establishments, or the schools. Interestingly, when our anger subsides, we do go back to using the same resources but alas! In a dilapidated condition.
Students’, taking to the streets to change their status quo is also nothing new. Throughout history, students have gathered together to demand better and fairer education for all. We have examples from across the globe where students had to set themselves upagainst violence and bloodshed. They did so with determination and brought the desired reforms to re-shape societies. Be it the Iran Students Protest of 1999, where the students protested against the closure of a reformist newspaper ‘Salam’ or the Chilean Student Protests of 2011, where the main aim was to convince the government to increase funding for public education, the student’s body flexed its muscle to influence a change. Cut to April 13, 2016 in Kashmir and you have an Army vehicle entering Degree College, Pulwama, followed by injuries to more than 50 students in clashes. The incident prompted extensive student protests in the Valley. As a result, more than 600 students were injured across Kashmir. The government’s response came swiftly; 17 days closure of educational institutions from April 17 to May 31 with absolutely no action against the offenders! A desperate measure for sure but was it the right one?
Such volatile situations and unsatisfactory response from the authorities has left students with only two options: Wait for things to normalize and continue being a part of the vicious cycle or take the difficult option of leaving the state and explore educational opportunities outside. It would at least ensure a steady work calendar for them. Those who can afford to support their children’s education outside the state do not waste time thinking twice about the option. However, it is again the underprivileged Kashmiri, with limited resources and countless responsibilities, that becomes the victim of these consequences. He neither wants destruction of schools nor has the money to pay donations for his children’s education elsewhere. All that he wants is to have his son/daughter placed better in life than how he is. Is that asking for too much? Does he deserve an answer?
But who is going to answer him? The government proposes revamping of school infrastructure with a ‘no’ timeline to it. The ‘better off’ population is not bothered by the problem anymore as their children now have access to quality education in some of the most prestigious institutions of the country. I think about it, write about it, but contribute nothing on the ground to bring about a change. Therefore, the onus to address the issue is essentially on the people of the state who are living through the problem.
What we need to understand is that whether tomorrow we are free or under a certain administration, we will still need to eat, sleep, work, earn and die. The only difference is that if we are educated, we become multi-dimensional. Getting a good education becomes the key to our growth, as it allows knowledge to be advanced from generation to generation. The people of our state have dealt with problems in a one dimensional approach. It is only education that can help in evolving outlooks of dealing with a problem differently and more effectively. As it is, education continues to be the most powerful weapon in any kind of situation. This is what we need to realize and focus upon. If we realize the potential of education, we will have found our solution. Let us accept this that the direction in which education starts a Kashmiri will determine his future in life.