Jammu & Kashmir / Report : Future on Fire
While the Government has been calling for resumption of schools and conducting of exams in November, with 27 schools set ablaze in the last three months by miscreants, Kashmir faces a new challenge
Deepak Zazia from Srinagar
After burning of schools by the terrorists abated and supported by Pakistan going unabated in Kashmir Valley during the last three months, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ultimately stepped in to save the younger generation and to save Kashmir from becoming Afghanistan or Syria. The High Court has reason to step in because 27 schools were burnt mysteriously in the Valley during last couple of months.
Expressing concern and anguish over the destruction of centres of learning and training in Kashmir, former Union Minister Chaman Lal Gupta felt that all this was being done to drag the younger generation towards the Taliban culture, a path of violence and a great danger to the civilised world.
Observing that it is the collective responsibility of all to save the school buildings from mysterious fires, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed the State Government to ask all Deputy Commissioners and Chief Education Officers concerned in districts of the Kashmir Valley to “take preventive and protective” measures for saving the schools from “mysterious enemies” of education.
It said the mysterious enemies of education should be unmasked and dealt with an iron hand while seeking a comprehensive and consolidated compliance report from the government within a week.
Police’s View Point
The J&K Police have made some arrests but have largely kept silent about the persons behind these incidents. “It is not possible to provide security to all the schools. We are doing investigations. We have made arrests and identified people but we can’t reveal much yet,” said DGP K Rajendra Kumar.
Taking suo motu cognisance of burning of school buildings in Kashmir, the High Court in its orders today observed that the State Administration was still in deep slumber and appeared to have not devised any protective policy for protecting school buildings from the mysterious fires.
During the ongoing unrest in the Valley, more than 27 schools have been destroyed in mysterious fires. On October 30 when the whole nation was celeberating Deepawali, unidentified arsonists set ablaze a school building in Anantnag district.
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti alleged that the separatists were not allowing schools in the Valley to function because they wanted a new generation of uneducated youths who can pelt stones and can be used as “cannon fodder”. She added that the separatists were exploiting children from the poor families by instigating them to attack Army camps, Police stations and CRPF camps and were using them as shields, while their own children were safe.
Observing that education is the main factor for intellectual excellence and prosperity, the court opined that by burning a school building, a mysterious person might enjoy its flames and smoke but that sadistic enjoyment could be only for an hour or so, least realising that he was darkening the educational atmosphere.
“The mysterious burning of centres of learning (school buildings) has sent shock waves, awakening all to ponder,” a division bench of Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Ali Mohammad Magrey observed in its orders.
The bench pointing out to newspaper reports about burning of educational institutions in Kashmir declared, “On hearing about such unfortunate and
horrendous episodes, everybody bleeds.”
Failure of the authorities to check burning of schools shows that the
government has virtually surrendered its authority to the separatists who had been giving call for protest calendar since the killing of dreaded terrorist Burhan Wani , and refused to take any action against the arsonists and those stoning the Army and Police camps. The politics of protecting vote banks overweighed the need to govern and to nip the trouble in the bud.
Now when 27 schools have been burnt, the Kashmiri leadership has not learnt the right kind of lessons. There is a lot of rhetoric and blame game in the air rather than any concrete step to open schools for the students who do not want to be part of the self-destructive path of the stone throwing.
With hundreds of thousands of the students losing one full academic year due to the street turbulence, as many as 27 educational institutions have been burned down in Kashmir.
Concerned over the burning down of several schools in Kashmir, the Centre has asked the Mehbooba Mufti Government to check such attempts and make efforts for reopening the schools which have been closed for more than 110 days due to unrest in the Valley.
In a communication, the Home Ministry conveyed to the J&K Government to ensure protection of schools, especially those which are
vulnerable to attacks, and make all attempts for reopening all educational institutions across the Valley.
The Central Government is deeply concerned over the torching of schools and worried about the future of the
children who are the worst sufferers due to the prolonged turmoil in the state, a senior Home Ministry official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also said to be worried that the closure of educational institutions for such a long period was affecting thousands of students and their reopening would be a step towards restoring normalcy in Kashmir, officials said.
The Home Ministry is said to have persuaded the State Government to direct the J&K State Board of School Education to notify over 500 schools to conduct regular examinations. Examinations for Class X will
commence from November 15 and end on November 28 while examinations for Class XII will begin from November 14 and culminate on December 3.
Maximum number of schools,
precisely 6, has been torched in Kulgam district that falls in the PDP’s
stronghold of South Kashmir where 15 schools have been reduced to rubble. Even the first incident on September 6 took place in the same district when unidentified persons torched the
building of JNU Public High School at Mirhama.
After JNU, three more private schools were set on fire in Anantnag (Hanfia Higher Secondary School Anantnag on September 19 and Iqra Public School on October 28) and Srinagar (Noorul Huda Educational Institute Zewan: October 12). All the remaining 20 are Government Schools. In all, one Primary school, 13 Middle schools, 6 High schools and 6 Higher Secondary schools have been fully destroyed.
In addition to the fully devastated 24 schools, four Government schools have suffered partial damage at Batagund Mawar Kupwara (September 28), Katrusa Kulgam (October 12), Kawoosa Khalsa Budgam (October 23) and Daderhama Ganderbal (October 28).
Official statistics revealed that 9 schools were torched in September but the trend is picking up at an alarming speed as 15 schools have been destroyed fully and 3 more partially till October 28.
6 schools have been torched in Kulgam district, 5 in Anantnag, 3 in Baramulla, 2 each in Srinagar, Budgam and Shopian and one each in Ganderbal and Kupwara. Interestingly, the school dropout Burhan Wani’s own district of Pulwama is the only district in Kashmir where no educational institute has
perished in fire during the turbulence.
Director School Education Kashmir Aijaz Ahmad Bhat stated that the
turmoil had affected all the 7,28,903 students upto Class 12 level in the Valley. “Thousands of students have suffered due to devastation of schools. We have activated the watch and ward staff and asked them to keep a vigil under the supervision of concerned Headmasters and Principals. We have suffered loss of Rs 5 crore and
immediately we have no plans in hand for reconstruction of the gutted school buildings and accommodation of the students in private buildings”, Bhat told some media persons last week.
The education sector in the Valley which was already struggling to restart after more than three months of unrest will now have to handle damages of over Rs 5 crore due to the destruction of over 27 schools. Nearly 8,000 students, mostly belonging to economically weaker families, have been hit.
Burning of schools is not a new trend of terrorism in Kashmir. It was part of ongoing insurgency in J&K. During the first 20 years of terrorism in Kashmir Valley, 183 Higher Secondary, High and Middle Schools were burnt by the
terrorists while number of such Primary Schools was touching 300.
After normalcy was restored to some extend in J&K, successive Central Governments emphasised on
developing infrastructure in education sector but now terrorists have again started buring the schools.
The biggest question is who will be benefitted from burning the schools? The answer is very clear, the separatists and pro-Pakistani elements active in Kashmir Valley are trying to prevent the education system from functioning in a normal way. One of the overwhelming signs of normalcy in the Valley is the reopening of schools. Since the unrest began in July, almost all the schools in Kashmir have been shut on the diktat of separatist groups. Since July 8, Government and Private Schools across the Valley have remained closed with the Hurriyat refusing to exempt them from its protest calendar.
The government’s recent decision to announce the examination schedule for class 10 and 12 students has irked groups unwilling to deviate from their diktat. However, reports indicate that for the family members or relatives of top separatist leaders, there is always space for a little leeway. The
granddaughter of separatist leader and Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani recently wrote her Class 10 exams at the Delhi Public School in Srinagar, amidst high security, as per media reports.
It is also believed that ongoing
campaign to burn school was another attempt to create another “lost
generation” in Kashmir. The “lost
generation” refers to those who grew up in a Kashmir ravaged by the preceding two decades of turmoil. At the height of militancy in the 1990s, many had quit schools and enlisted with militant groups.