Incessant shutting down of educational institutions due to the government orders and the Hurriyat’s shutdown calls has triggered a migration of sorts among the students coming from advantageous families of Kashmir. But for the son of a poor labourer dreaming of a better future, it is a battle already lost.
For Asif Mohammad Wani, a class 12 student of Anantnag town in south Kashmir, education has become a casualty of warring forces in the conflict-wracked state. An aspiring doctor, Asif has only completed 40 percent syllabus so far and he feels his dream may not come true, given the circumstances and the deteriorating situation in the Valley.
“I secured 98 percent marks in my Class 10 examination. Since the expectations of my family have risen”, Asif says. “But how am I expected to do better when I find my school closed and coaching centres shut almost every day, not only by the separatist strike calls but now due to the calls of the district administration”.
Asif’s father, Ghulam Mohammad Wani, works as a labourer and his mother, Shamshada Bano, is involved in a smalltime Kashmir handicrafts job to help their family sustain and to educate their children. Asif’s brother studies in class 10 in the same school along with sister, who in in class 6. According to Asif, life has come to a standstill in Kashmir and education is becoming insignificant.
“We are actually three friends who studied together since childhood. The other two have gone to Delhi for private coaching, one being the son of an engineer and the other the son of a lecturer, but I cannot afford such costs, being the son of a labourer”, Asif laments.
According to officials, the daily attendance of students in government degree colleges and higher secondary schools, especially in South Kashmir, has been much less, especially of the students from medical and non-medical streams of higher secondary schools, since children of advantageous parents are studying in private tuition centres in different states in India. Such parents have no other option but to send their wards to coaching centres outside Kashmir.
“I had never thought of sending my only child to Kota for Class 12 and medical entrance coaching, but I had no other option left. Every other day, we find prohibitory orders or precautionary measures by the district administration vis-a-vis schools that has shattered the career of my child and other students”, lamented Abdul Rashid Sofi.
“It’s only in May this year that I decided to send my child to Kota. One day, the school was closed by the orders of the district administration and I found him roaming in Lal Chowk. He was wearing his uniform but his school bag, was filled, not with books, but stones and first aid. This experience jolted me”, Sofi said. “I cannot let him die on the road, get blinded by pellets or be crippled for life by a bullet. I have seen dreams for him”.
The coaching centres across Kashmir first came under the fire of warring ideologies last year when a civilian uprising broke out in Kashmir. This year, instead of the Hurriyat, the state government and education department are issuing ‘shutdown calendars’ that have taken a heavy toll on the overall performance of students and cast a shadow on the timeline of syllabus completion. The strike calls by the Hurriyat have only added to their problems.
“The overall enrollment of students in our coaching centres has decreased drastically compared to the previous years and parents are trying their best to send their children to Jammu, Delhi and Kota for medical entrance and Class 11 and 12 coaching”, said Mashooq Ahmad, a physics lecturer.
“I don’t know what are the other options left with the government for the students when day in and day out the educational institutions generally remain closed and coaching centres are shut by the government orders”, he said. “If you have seen the overall performance of our students in this year’s NEET, you can yourself judge the overall performance of our students for which the government of the day is responsible. Even their CM’s Super-50 experiment has gone terribly wrong”.
The situation unfolding in Kashmir has radicalised students to the extent that the teacher-student relationship is in shambles. The students can come late in the morning with many excuses that ruin the very structure of discipline of the educational institutions.
“We are fed up with our job. We have to remain on tenterhooks in the middle of the day whenever we hear that something untoward has happened anywhere in Kashmir that can provoke students to start a protest”, said a teacher of Boys Higher Secondary School Anantnag.
“When Sabzar Bhat was martyred this year, the situation in our institute went out of control. We were told by the students not to stop them or otherwise be ready to face harsh consequences. When we tried to stop them, they somehow managed to run away from the premises of the institute and then started pelting stones at the institute which resulted in heavy damages to the building and to the vehicles of teaching staff”, the teacher said.
“The students are totally radicalised. They don’t fear chanting anti-India slogans inside classrooms”, regretted an Assistant Professor at the Boys Degree College in Anantnag. “We try to motivate them that education only can come as a rescue measure to all the disturbances. But who’s going to listen to our views in a surcharged atmosphere. Not even a single student does”, he said.
During the ongoing encounters in different parts of the valley and during strike calls, many students are seen in their uniforms with their school bags intact carrying lunch boxes, stones and first-aid, instead of books. The professor said the students are caught in a troubled situation.
“We can neither encourage nor discourage them for which we will be labeled either as anti-government or pro-government for any of our stance. We too have families that might be at the receiving end for any of our stances”, he said.