Srinagar: In colourful uniforms with different colours of school bags when young boys and girls headed for schools after eight months in Kashmir valley, the joyous faces of students and their parents were quite visible. They couldn’t hide their emotions on opening of schools after long eight months.
Not only students but worried parents smiled when the school children boarded their school buses in every nook and corner of the state and gates of schools opened for lakhs of students who have been eagerly waiting for the opening of schools. The parents purchased new school uniforms, books, shoes, thus realized that their children had grown one more year old. “In the months of unrest and uncertainty the life was stagnated so much that we never realized that our children had grown one year old and had to purchase everything new for them. But today we are happy our children are back in the schools,’’ said Arifa whose two children are enrolled at Burn Hall School in Srinagar.
The past eight months have seen lot of controversies over the education of children and their examination that not only left students worried but their parents panicked for the fear of losing one crucial academic year to the ongoing political uncertainty. Even politicians from the mainstream parties and leaders from the separatists’ camp used education and small children to fulfill their political agendas.
The children had last attended their classes in July last year and when schools got closed for Eid holidays nobody could have ever thought that the gates of these schools will unexpectedly shut for the rest of the year for these children and will be thrown open only after a huge bloodshed. Many unfortunate parents are bereft of buying the uniforms this season for their children who fell to the mindless violence after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani in south Kashmir’s Bambdoora village on July 8. Literally the peace and joy from their hearts have been brutally snatched after losing their beloved ones to the violence on the streets in 2016. Every year in March when the children will step out of their homes for schools the deep scars into their minds and hearts will refresh and traumatize them for the rest of their life.
The Valley observed unending protests which left around 90 civilians especially youth’s dead and more than 12000 youths injured and around eight thousand had pellet injuries and the hospitals had to do more than 1000 surgeries to save the vision of injured people. Among the school going students was also Insha of Shopian who lost both of her eyes to pellets and when she headed for school her classmates and teachers couldn’t hide their emotions and tears rolled from their cheeks. When she had been in school before July 8 last year, Insha used to play games in the playfield and today when she came to her school unfortunately she was holding hands of her parents and friends.
The shutdown enforced by the separatist leadership and the curfew imposed by the government left both private and government schools closed and thousands of students who otherwise should have been attending classes, doing various kinds of scientific experiments or drawing arts or reciting poetry remained confined to their homes just waiting when peace will return to Kashmir so their schools would reopen. Though after five months of unending unrest when situation normalized and the separatist leaders also gave pause to strikes in their weekly or fortnightly calendars, the schools couldn’t be opened owing to winter break.
“For me it is a day of pleasure as I am sending my children to school after eight months. I can’t express my feeling,’’ said an emotionally charged mother who was waiting at a bus stop along with her three children at posh Rajbagh locality. “I am praying to almighty that situation should remain peaceful as my children along with thousands of students would continue to study in peaceful environs.
The closure of schools left not only students traumatized but the nervousness was also visible among their parents who would always ponder when will schools open again so they could see off their children every morning. “When schools were shut, I could see impact on my children after three months one day they just wore uniform, forced us to pack their lunch boxes and then spend a day in the park of my friend as if they were in the school,’’ said Imitiaz Ahmad a resident of Srinagar. “My children would ask questions every day why schools are closed. When will strike end and will exams ever take place. And I had no answers.’’
To give the sense of peace – the J&K government announced mass promotion for the students of lower classes, whereas the students enrolled in higher classes appeared in the examinations in November and December last year. And to attract students towards the examinations students were given 50 percent relaxation in syllabus. And when examinations were successfully conducted –J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti her Education minister, Nayeem Akthar and other ministers used the exams to undermine their opponents especially separatists and blamed them for ruining the career of students. The government spokespersons used all tactics to politicize the education and to score political points against the separatist’s leadership who were also facing criticism from the people for not providing relief to the students especially during examinations. And for the separatist leadership they issued statements trying to discourage students from taking part in examinations saying that education could wait and when students are being showered with pellets and bullets the education is meaningless and some people who were never identified by the government started torching schools in the rural areas. Though J&K police made several arrests in the school burning incidents but the names and people behind the incidents was never made public though separatists from the day one blamed government and agencies for burning of the schools.
And no one took note of the trauma faced by the young children who were facing burnt from both the camps facing pellets from government forces and long strikes from separatists. And parents were worried who wanted opening of the schools but at the same time they wanted a peaceful environment that would not lead any trouble to their children.
“Sending children to schools was never an easy task especially when examination was held under the heavy security. Parents used to wait outside the schools till examinations ended,’’ says Ashiq Ahmad a school teacher. “Thankfully there were no incidents during examinations otherwise things could have been more problematic. Parents were visibly upset and they relaxed when examination ended,’’ he said.
Alongside economics – the education bore the maximum burnt during the unrest period. The people with high income tried to compensate education of their wards by sending them to outside the state or winter capital Jammu even some got their children enrolled in other states. However majority of the parents were waiting for the opening of the schools and tried to educate their children at private tuition centers but the fact is that only handful of students managed to get their actual studies and more than 90 percent students missed five to six months of their education in the last year that could hardly be compensated. Though some educated youths and teachers to teach the students tried to organize community schools in different parts of the Valley, however, very less percentage of students could utilize the services of voluntary education.
“Yes it is true some energetic educated youth set up some community schools in the Valley but could cater to few hundred students – the majority of students couldn’t reach even to those schools and environment was not feasible for the education at all when tear smoke shells, pellets and guns were roaring from every side,’’ said a teacher who was part of the community school. “Due to limited resources the community schools had its own limitations and could had never replaced the regular school works. It was just a stop gap arrangement that didn’t even work at all.’’
The government has to full fill its responsibility and should as per its promise used the institution of dialogue to provide conducive atmosphere for the students of Valley. Even time has come when the state government should motivate the Centre government to initiate dialogue with separatist leadership so that Valley will not witness another unrest. Though fears are that situation can turn volatile any time – a single civilian death could snowball into a major controversy. In the past eight years –Kashmir has witnessed three long periods of unrest and every time students had to face the burnt both from the government and from the separatists’ camp who used them as fodder. Time has come when government and separatist leadership should realize that they should not politicize education but should also leave this sector from pursuing political agendas otherwise we will be putting at stake career and future of thousands of students who could be leader of future.
Taking the clue form the various conflict zones of the world where the education of children continues despite immense violence, there is a consensus in the society that both the warring sides must develop a mutual understanding and spare education sector from politicking to save future of millions of children of trouble torn valley. “It is request to all the stake holders that they should keep schools and education out from the politics. Even at places of war across the globe the schools remain open. What our students lost in 2016, we never want that students should again pass through that phase,’’ says a student, Imtiyaz Ahmad.
Noted poet and satirist, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, lashed out at the joint resistance leadership for lacking “strategy” to deal with the political conflict.
“We should learn from Palestinians who have never let education suffer being in a very intense conflict. Palestinians have experienced more than us but they never let education to suffer,” Zareef said, adding “They in such circumstances made their children doctors, engineers and other professionals. We have ruined our education and are playing with our future generation,” he told The Legitimate.
The article first appeared in print edition of March 8 to 14, 2017.
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